Battle of Volkondah, 19-20 July 1751

The Battle of Volkondah (19-20 July 1751) was a French victory that forced most of the British soldiers in southern India to take shelter in Trichinopoly, where they would be besieged for much of the next two years.

By the summer of 1751 the French were dominant in southern India. Their candidate was Nizam of Hyderabad (officially the Mughal viceroy in southern India). Joseph Dupleix was Nawab of the southern part of this province, while Chanda Sahib was Nawab of the Carnatic. The British still held Fort St. David and Madras, and with Britain and France officially at peace Dupleix couldn't attack either place. The British were also restricted, in that they could only act as auxiliaries to a local leader, and by the summer of 1751 the only significant local opponent to the French was Mohammad Ali, a rival claimant for the post of Nawab of the Carnatic. He held Trichinopoly, and in the early months of 1751 used that place as a bargining counter in negotiations with the French. Only when he was finally promised British support did Mohammad Ali make it clear that he intended to defend the town.

The British sent one detachment to reinforce Trichinopoly, and then in March created a second force to cooperate with Mohammad Ali's field army. This force consisted of 500 European troops, 100 Africans and 1,000 Sepoys, all under the command of Captain Gingens, a Swiss officer.

In mid-May Gingens was joined by 1,600 of Mohammad Ali's troops. This allowed him to pretend that he was only acting as an auxiliary, and the combined force moved from Fort St. David to the pagoda at Verdachelam, on the route between Fort St. David and Trichinopoly. At Verdachelam Gingens was joined by another 4,000 of Mohammad Ali's troops and 100 European soldiers from the first detachment.

March also saw the French enter the field. Chanda Sahib, with around 8,000 troops, decided to attack Trichinopoly, and he was joined by 400 French troops under d'Auteuil. By mid-May this combined force was approaching the town of Volkondah, to the north-east of Trichinopoly. This town was held for the Nawab of the Carnatic, but as the rival armies approached his town the governor decided to wait for the outcome of the impending battle before taking sides.

The two armies faced each other around Volkondah for two weeks, both attempting to win over the governor, before Gingens' patience ran out. On the evening of 19 July he attempted to occupy the town. His troops got past the town walls, but were repulsed at the fort. Inevitably the governor then sided with Chanda Sahib, and invited his troops into the fort. On the morning of 20 July the French artillery opened fire, and the British troops panicked and fled, leaving Mohammad Ali's men unsupported. Only the lack of a French pursuit saved the British from disaster. As it was most of Gingens' men were soon besieged in Trichinopoly, arriving outside the town walls on 28 July. The prolonged siege of Trichinopoly would dominate much of the remaining fighting in the war, and the French failure to capture the town would eventually undo their early successes. Gingens was amongst the troops besieged within Trichinopoly, but Clive escaped and would play a major part in the rest of the war.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (23 December 2011), Battle of Volkondah, 19-20 July 1751 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_volkondah.html

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