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rent hazard, by sending such a reinforcement to Colonel Baillie as would enable him to push forward in despite of the enemy.
A council of war being held, at which Lord Macleod assisted, it was resolved to adopt the latter expedient; and Colonel Fletcher, Captain Baird, and some other officers of distinguished name, were accordingly sent off with a strong detachment to the relief of Colonel Baillie. The main force in this detachment consisted of the grenadier and infantry companies of Lord Macleod's regiment, commanded by Captain Baird, — a new and untried force, and a new and untried officer. There were two other companies of European grenadiers, one company of Sepoy marksmen, and ten companies of Sepoy grenadiers; in all, about a thousand men. As their security depended upon the remoteness and difficulty of their way, as well as the silence and secrecy of their march, Colonel Fletcher refused four six-pounders which were offered, and set out from the camp at nine o'clock at night. An idea of the distress of Colonel Baillie and his detachment may be formed from one circumstance; every man of Colonel Fletcher's detachment, carried with him two days' rice, with some biscuit and arrack, for the relief of his friends at Perimbancum.
Hyder had such excellent intelligence of the English camp, (from some of the native troops,) that he obtained an early and exact knowledge, not only of the design, but of all the circumstances relative to this detachment; such as the time of its march, and that it was proceeding without artillery. He accordingly sent off a strong body to cut it off on its way; but Colonel Fletcher and Captain Baird having conceived some suspicion of their guides, suddenly changed the line of their route; and, by a wide circuitous sweep, through rice-fields and swamps to the right, added to the friendly cover of the night, had the good fortune to evade this danger, and, before morning, to effect the desired junction.
Hyder, however, was determined that they should not return so safely, and with the most consummate ability, and under his own personal inspection, prepared the trap for their ruin. The most covert and difficult ground on the road which they were to pass, was occupied and enfiladed by several batteries of cannon; and, as the time and circumstances of their march were known, large bodies of the best foot in Hyder's army lay in ambuscade on each side; he himself, with almost his whole force, being in readiness to support the attack. Whilst these real dispositions were making, a cloud of irregular cavalry were employed in various motions on the side of Conjeveram, in order to divert the attention of the English camp.
In this manner arrived the morning of the day (September 10th) appointed for the march of the united detachment; and daylight had scarcely broken, when the silent and expectant enemy perceived our unfortunate detachment advancing into the very centre of the toils which were laid for them. The enemy in ambuscade reserved their fire with admirable coolness and self-command, till the unhappy English were in the midst of them. Our army marched in column. On a sudden, whilst in a narrow defile, a battery of twelve guns opened upon them, and, loaded with grape shot, poured in upon their right flank. The English faced about; another battery immediately opened on their rear. They had no chance, therefore, but to advance: other batteries met them here likewise, and in less than half an hour 57 pieces of cannon were so brought to bear on them as to penetrate into every part of the British line. By seven o'clock in the morning the enemy poured down upon them in thousands, and every Englishman in the army was engaged. Captain Baird and his grenadiers fought with the greatest heroism. Surrounded and attacked on all sides by 25,000 cavalry, by 30 regiments of Sepoy infantry, besides Hyder's European corps, and a numerous artillery playing upon them from all quarters within grape-shop distance, yet this heroic column stood firm and undaunted, alternately facing their enemies on every side of attack. The French officers in Hyder's camp beheld the scene with astonishment, which was increased when, in the midst of all this tumult and extreme peril, they saw the British grenadiers performing their evolutions with as much pre
cision, coolness, and steadiness, as if under the eye of a commander on a parade.
Colonels Baillie and Fletcher, and Captain Baird, had only ten pieces of cannon, but these were so excellently served, that they made great havoc amongst the enemy. At length, after a dubious contest of three hours, — from six in the morning till nine, — victory began to declare for the English; the flower of the Mysore cavalry, after many bloody repulses, were at length entirely defeated with great slaughter, and the right wing, composed of Hyder's best forces, was thrown into disorder and began to give way. Hyder himself was about to give the orders for retreat, and the French officer who directed the artillery already began to draw it off.
It was in this moment of exultation and triumph that occurred one of those unforeseen and unavoidable misfortunes, which totally change the fortune of a day, and effectually throw a conquering army into the arms and power of those whom they have vanquished.
By some most miserable accident, the tumbrils, which contained the ammunition, suddenly blew up with two dreadful explosions in the centre of the British lines. One whole face of their column was thus entirely laid open, and their artillery overturned and destroyed. The destruction of men was great, but the total loss of their ammunition was still more fatal to the survivors. Tipppo Saib, a worthy son of his martial father, instantly saw and seized the moment of advantage, and, without waiting for orders, fell with the utmost rapidity, at the head of the Mogul and Carnatic horse, into the broken square, which had not yet time in any degree to recover its form and order. This attack by the enemy's cavalry being immediately seconded by the French corps, and by the first line of infantry, determined at once the fate of our unfortunate army. After successive prodigies of valour, the brave Sepoys were almost to a man cut to pieces.
Colonels Baillie and Fletcher, assisted by Captain Baird, made one more desperate effort: they rallied the Europeans, and, under the fire of the whole immense artillery of the enemy, gained a little eminence, and formed themselves into a new square. In this form did this invincible band, though totally without ammunition, the officers fighting only with their swords, and the soldiers with their mere bayonets, resist and repulse the myriads of the enemy, in thirteen different attacks; until at length, incapable of withstanding the successive torrents of fresh troops which were continually pouring upon them, they were fairly borne down and trampled upon, many of them still continuing to fight under the very legs of the horses and elephants.
The loss of the English in this engagement, called the battle of Perimbancum, amounted to about 4000 Sepoys and about 600 Europeans. Colonel Fletcher was amongst the number of those who were slain on the field. It is, indeed, a reasonable subject of surprise that any one escaped. Colonel Baillie, Captain Baird, after being severely wounded in four places, together with several other officers, and 200 Europeans, were made prisoners. They were carried into the presence of Hyder, who, with a true Asiatic barbarism, received them with the most insolent triumph and ferocious pride. The English officers, with a spirit worthy of their country, retorted his pride by an indignant coolness and contempt: — "Your son will inform you," said Colonel Baillie, appealing to Tippoo, who was present, "that you owe the victory to our disaster, rather than to our defeat." Hyder angrily ordered them from his presence, and commanded them instantly to prison.
Hyder's army, however, purchased this victory at a very dear rate. The slaughter fell almost entirely on his best troops, and the number is believed to have nearly trebled that of the whole of Colonel Baillie's army. This loss is stated to have augmented the natural ferocity of Hyder's temper, and may be reasonably assigned as a cause of his cruel treatment of his prisoners.
On the unhappy morning of this battle, Sir Hector Monroe, with the main army, had advanced along the Trepassore road, in order to meet the expected detachment. He saw the smoke and heard the firing on his left, but was at too great a distance, and in too much uncertainty, to come up before the firing had ceased. It would seem, indeed, that no notion was entertained of Hyder's being engaged with the whole army in the action. The firing was considered as proceeding only from the desultory attacks of his cavalry; and as Baillie had now been reinforced by Fletcher, there was no apprehension of his insufficiency. At length, however, the repeated firing of the appointed number of signal cannon, without any return being made, along with the dead stillness which prevailed on all sides, began to excite some melancholy presages of what happened. The successive arrival of two or three wounded Sepoys, — for not a British soldier moved, —who had the fortune to escape singly from the carnage, confirmed these apprehensions into certainty, and compelled the main army to think of their own safety. When the whole affair was known a council of war was held, and it was unanimously agreed that the only measure of safety was an immediate retreat to Madras, which was accordingly executed.
. In the meantime, Colonel Baillie, Captain Baird, and the other British -prisoners, were marched to one of Hyder's nearest forts, and there subjected to an imprisonment, of which, confinement in a horrible dungeon was the least circumstance. Captain Baird, in particular, was chained by the leg to another prisoner, as much of the slaughter in Hyder's army was imputed to the English grenadiers.
He remained a prisoner at Seringapatam three years and a half. In March, 1784, he was released, and in July joined his regiment at Arcot. In 1785, the regiment changed its number to the 71st. In 1787, he embarked with his regiment for Bombay, and returned to Madras in 1788. The 5th of June, 1789, he received the Majority of the 71st, and in October obtained leave of absence, and came to Britain. The 8th of December, 1790, he obtained the Lieutenant-Colonelcy of the 71st; and in 1791 he returned to India, and joined the army under Marquis Cornwallis. He commanded a brigade of Sepoys, and was present at the attack of a number of