J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Lt. Lindsay Lives Through the Battle of Pollilur

Once the French entered the war against the British, the fighting expanded around the globe to wherever those two empires were in conflict.

In India, the British army supported the British East India Company, which recruited local troops. The French allied with Hyder Ali, sultan of Mysore. The result was the Second Anglo-Mysore War.

Last month I stumbled across the memoir of that conflict from the Hon. John Lindsay, a lieutenant in the British army at the age of nineteen. Here’s his description of the end of the first Battle of Pollilur on 10 Sept 1780, which was more costly to the British forces than Bunker Hill.

Lindsay was a younger son of a Scottish earl, but his recollections work best when read in an upper-class British voice.
After my company had delivered their fire amongst the multitude of the enemy that were around us, the [enemy] horse immediately rushed in, and, the ranks being now irretrievably broken, every one threw down his arms, and used every means to preserve his life; whilst, all around us, no object presented itself but the enemy, with drawn sabres, cutting and hacking the miserable wretches that were at their mercy.

As my company was (from their being lately sent to the assistance of the rear-guard) the last body of troops that were in the field, they were nearly all cut to pieces; the greatest part of the soldiers and officers of the line came running down towards me, and the enemy’s horse galloping after them; they were driven to a hollow piece of ground, which had been the means of sheltering my company pretty well during the action; there were therefore five or six hundred people in this place, crowded together, which the horse surrounded, who, by the length of their weapons, could plunge them into the middle of the crowd.

Our situation was now become beyond all description dreadful, from the screams of the wounded and dying people on the side of the hollow, and from the vast numbers that were smothered in the middle of it, owing to the extraordinary pressure. In this situation I was so unfortunate as to be near the centre, and in a few minutes I should have suffered the same fate as a number of others, if at that time I had not called out to two men of my company who were near the edge, and, though they were both desperately wounded, yet by great exertions they dragged me out of the dreadful pressure.
Good show, men! Sorry about those wounds, but at least your lieutenant is out of a tough spot caused by his being as far from the enemy weapons as possible.
Then, reflecting that the superior appearance of my dress might be fatal to me, I recollected that I had in my pocket two hundred pagodas [gold coins], being the subsistence of my troop, and which, it immediately struck me, would be the means of preserving my life.
Such a hardship being an officer, having to wear “superior” dress. But at least one does get to carry the company’s money and use that to bribe one’s way out of being killed.
I therefore looked around me to observe the different countenances of the horsemen, and, thinking that I had distinguished one whose look was less ferocious than the rest, I pulled out my bag of pagodas, and beckoned him to approach me, which he instantly did, put up his sword, and dismounted. I immediately delivered him the bag; he seemed much surprised and pleased at the magnitude of its contents, which gave me the most sanguine expectations.

After he had put it up, he demanded my accoutrements, which I instantly took off and presented to him; I now thought he would have gone no farther, but (one after the other) he stripped me of everything except my breeches and one half of my shirt,—having torn off the other to tie up my other shirts in a bundle.

Though much concerned at being thus stripped naked after the part I had acted towards him, I however made no doubt but that he would grant me his protection, especially when I saw him mount his horse; which he, however, had no sooner done, than he drew his sabre, and, after giving me two or three wounds, instantly rode off, leaving me stung with rage, and laying the blame upon myself for having called him towards me.
The nerve to ride off with the company’s money that way!
After some minutes, what with the loss of blood and the intense heat of the sun, I fainted away, fully convinced that I was expiring, and pleased to think my last moments were so gentle. I do not know how long I remained in this situation, but I was roused from it by a dreadful pain in my left shoulder-blade. I now found that I was nearly driven into the centre again, and that a dead man was lying upon me, and a pike that had passed through his body had penetrated into my shoulder, and caused me the severe pain.
Severe pain, I say! From a pike sticking through another man’s body.
In this manner I lay for some minutes, when John Kelman, of my company, called out, upon observing me, that I was dead; upon which I answered, “Not yet, but near about it.” At this moment he observed three French hussars, and desired me to go to them; I answered him that I was so weak I could not walk, and, besides that, I was so jammed in the crowd that I could not move myself; upon which, being a very strong man, he reached out his hand towards me, and, my head being the only part he could touch, he dragged me out by the hair, and carried me to the French, when I once more fainted; however, one of them put some arrack [liquor] into my mouth, which soon revived me, and I told them in French I was an officer, and requested that they would protect me, which they assured me in the strongest manner they would do. They accordingly drew their swords to keep off the horse, who were every moment endeavouring to cut me down. At this time my preserver, John Kelman, was by some accident separated from me, and I afterwards found he was cut to pieces.
Oh, tough luck, Kelman!

The British had gone into battle with more than 3,800 fighting men. Lindsay was one of only 50 officers and about 200 private soldiers who survived to be taken prisoner. The rest of his memoir is about his captivity. That experience was, needless to say, difficult.


Kenneth Daigler said...

Lt. Lindsay may well have been the model for Flashman's personality in the Fraiser series?

J. L. Bell said...

I had the same thought, but since I haven’t actually read any Flashman novels it seemed presumptuous to say. Thanks for sharing that impression!