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The Story of Lord Clive by  John Lang

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[46] ON February 22nd Clive marched at the head of 380 Englishmen, 1300 sepoys, and six field guns. His anxiety to reach Arcot again was great, because he had cause to believe that a French and native army meant to attack that place. After failing to find the enemy at two spots where his information told him that they had encamped, he was making for Arcot, pressing on by long forced marches. At sunset on the 23rd he was near to a place called Kaveripak. Though Clive did not know it, here lay the French, hidden from sight. They had laid a trap for Clive, who had no cavalry to act as scouts, and he had marched right into it!

[47] The French position was very strong, and they had posted near the road along which the English were marching, but hidden from view, a battery of nine guns supported by some of their best men. In a dry watercourse near at hand they had posted nearly all their infantry, both French and native. Cavalry waited behind a grove of mango trees, ready to charge the English as soon as the guns had thrown them into disorder. Everything was ready; the trap was set, and the mouse had run into it.

The thunder of the guns on his right was the first notice Clive had that the French were near him. His own guns were in the rear, and before they could be brought up many of his men had fallen. The enemy's cavalry began to move out quickly to try to get behind him. It was a position of very great danger, and the English force would have been destroyed if their leader had lost his head. But Clive never lost his head; the greater the [48] danger, the cooler he became; the worse fix he was in, the more cheerfully did he set about getting out of it. Now, with men every moment falling around him, he gave his orders as calmly as he might have done on parade; his confidence in himself was such that his men could not but believe that all was yet well.

But the chances were all against him; he could neither advance nor retreat: he must fight where he was. And the French had all the best of the position, besides having a stronger force of infantry, as well as 2500 cavalry, an arm of which Clive had none. He must fight, and he must win. If he lost, not only would his own army be destroyed, but Trichinopoli must fall, and then the French would be all-powerful in Southern India. What was to be done?

The firing had now been going on for more than four hours. It was dark, men were falling fast, and those remaining were beginning to be disheartened.

There was just a chance, Clive thought, [49] that the grove where the French guns were posted might have been left unguarded In its rear. He selected a sergeant, and sent him with a few sepoys to try to find out the truth about that position, and soon the sergeant rejoined him to say that there were no French troops in the rear of the grove. Clive at once took 200 of his best Europeans—more than half of all he had left, for numbers had fallen—and 400 sepoys, and himself stealthily led them through the darkness towards the rear of the grove. But, before he could get half-way to the grove, he knew, from the lessening of the fire of the men whom he had left to hold his first position, that they were losing heart and were becoming panic-stricken, and he knew that soon they would turn and fly.



Hastily making over the command of the storming party to the next senior officer, Lieutenant Keene, he hurried back to his old position, barely in time to stop his men from running away, confused and dis- [50] heartened. Clive's arrival gave them back their courage, but he knew that he could not again trust them alone; they fought on, but they could not do much more than hold their own even with him at their head. They had been shaken, and their panic might return.

Meantime, Lieutenant Keene had led his party to a spot three hundred yards behind the grove from which the French guns were pounding away. There he halted, and sent forward an officer who could speak French, to examine the position. This officer, Ensign Symmonds, hurried off, and very soon, in a dry watercourse, came on a large body of native soldiers who were chattering there. As soon as they saw Symmonds, they jumped up to shoot him, but Symmonds coolly shouted to them in French, and they, concluding that he must be a French officer, let him pass.

Symmonds went right on to the grove, where he saw the Frenchmen loading and firing their guns, whilst about a hundred [51] infantry soldiers were so busy firing their muskets at Clive and his men that they never thought of looking to their rear. Symmonds hurried back by another way, so as to avoid the native troops, and at once Keene marched his party, unseen, to within thirty yards of the French guns. Here they halted and poured in a volley.

The French were so astonished and taken by surprise that they never attempted to fire in return, but ran for their lives and crowded into an empty house, where Keene forced them to surrender and to give up their arms.

The battle was won, for the enemy, seeing the guns taken and the Frenchmen captured, ran in all directions.

Clive had not only taken nine guns and three mortars, and many prisoners, but he had shown the natives that the English were more than a match for the French. Hitherto the natives of India had believed that the French were much the better fighting-men. This new lesson they never forgot.

[52] Clive's losses at Kaveripak were heavy, but not nearly so heavy as those of the French; and however many men he may have lost, he had at any rate saved Southern India.

He now hurried back to Fort St. David, whence he was on the point of starting once again, with an expedition to Trichinopoli, when Major Stringer Lawrence, his senior officer, arrived from England.

Lawrence, of course, at once took command, and his operations were very successful. He forced the French to fall back, and to take up a position on an island in a river. Then he sent Clive to the other side of the river, with 400 English troops, 700 sepoys, and some native cavalry, to try to cut the French line of communications, as it is called. That is to say — he was to try to get between the French and the place from which they got their supplies. This Clive did very successfully.

But whilst he was encamped one night at a place called Samiaveram, the French [53] commander, thinking that the English had gone away, sent a force of eighty Europeans (half of whom, I am sorry to say, were deserters from the English), and 700 sepoys, to seize that place. Clive and his men, utterly worn out with marching and fighting, were sound asleep, and the sentries were not much more wide awake. Clive was lying in a house—a kind of inn; his English troops were sleeping in two pagodas which they were using as barracks, whilst the native soldiers lay about on the ground.

When the French force came near in the dark, an English sentry challenged. But one of the deserters, an Irishman, told the sentry that they had been sent by Major Lawrence to strengthen Clive, and the party was allowed to march on, guided by one of the garrison towards Clive's quarters.

When they reached the smaller of the two pagodas, the Frenchmen were again challenged, and this time they replied by firing a volley through the open doors of the pagoda on to the sleeping soldiers. Then [54] they rushed to the door of the inn, where Clive and his officers slept, and poured in a fire there. Crash upon crash went the volleys; a sentry fell dead close to Clive, and a box at his feet was shattered to pieces.

Surely to be so awakened in the dark from a sound sleep was enough to confuse and to shake the nerve of even the bravest of men. But in one second Clive had all his wits about him. Jumping up, he ran to the largest of the two pagodas, in which were 200 of his men.

"Follow me, men!" he shouted, as he ran out of the building. Then halting, he formed his men alongside a regiment of sepoys who were loosing off volleys in every direction in the darkness.

Clive gave the order to these men to "Cease fire," but at once one of them made a savage cut at him with his "tulwar," wounding him in the shoulder. "Cease fire!" again shouted Clive. But the order was a useless one, for these men were French sepoys, and not Clive's men at all.

[55] At this moment up came six Frenchmen. "Rendez-vous!" one of them shouted to Clive; "you are my prisoner."

"Prisoner!" said Clive. "It is you, and not I, who may talk of surrendering. Look around. You will see that you are surrounded."

The Frenchmen were scared, and ran off to tell their commanding officer. Clive then speedily rallied his men who were in the other pagoda, whereupon the French sepoys ran out of the place. Meantime the Frenchmen and the English deserters, seeing themselves, as they thought, in a trap, had run into the smaller of the two pagodas, which they held till daylight. Then, at an early hour in the morning, their commanding officer led them out into the open, where Clive's men received them with a volley which killed twelve of them, and the Frenchmen scurried back to the pagoda like rabbits to their holes.

Clive, not wishing to shed more blood than he could help, now came to the front, and, pointing out to them that brave men [56] could do no more than they had already done, asked them to surrender. Instantly one of them, an Irish deserter, who stood close to him, raised his musket and fired point blank at Clive's head. In some strange way the man missed his aim, (though at such a short distance it would seem almost impossible to miss), and the bullet went through the bodies of two sergeants who stood behind Clive, killing them both. The commander of the French, disgusted with the act of the Irishman, then surrendered with his whole force, and I have no doubt that the Irish deserter was hanged, as he deserved to be.



Clive sent his native cavalry to follow up the French sepoys who had fled during the night, and it was said that not a man of them was left alive. The cavalry hunted them far and near, and chased them into every corner. It was an ill day for the French sepoys.

After this, speedily came the end of the operations. On 15th May Clive took the [57] town of Paichanda. Thus he forced the French commander, d'Auteuil, to retreat to Volkonda, where he was obliged to surrender. Three days later, another French officer, with all his men, gave himself up; and finally, the whole French force before Trichinopoli surrendered to Major Lawrence. Clive had thereafter some months of hard work but no great fighting, and when the campaign was over he returned to rest at Madras. Here he married Miss Maskeleyne, the sister of one of the few friends whom he had made while he was yet a writer in the East India Company's service.

But all Clive's fighting and campaigning had severely tried his health, and he became so ill that he was obliged to apply for leave to visit Europe.

Before leaving, however, there was more work for him to do. Two forts between Madras and Pondicherry, Covelong and Chingleput, were still held by French garrisons. It was determined that these places must be taken.

[58] But the only force that could then be spared for the work was not one that any officer would care to command. There were 200 English recruits who had only just arrived from home. Not only were they without any idea of discipline, but they were almost undrilled. They were the roughest of the rough, wretched creatures picked off the streets of London, small in size, weak in constitution, and ignorant of how to use a musket. With them were 500 newly enrolled sepoys, men unknown to their officers, and almost without knowledge of drill.

What a force with which to march again well-trained French soldiers! No officer but Clive would have thought even of the possibility of success.

But, ill as he was, he took command. It is said that when a shot from the Fort of Covelong killed one of these recruits, all the rest threw away their muskets and ran for their lives. It was only with much difficulty that Clive stopped and rallied them. On another occasion it is said that the noise of a gun [59] so frightened a sentry that hours afterwards he was found hiding in a well. But Clive gradually taught this rabble that there was not so much danger from bullets as they supposed, that they need not necessarily be killed each time the enemy fired at them.

At last this extraordinary force succeeded in taking Covelong. Almost immediately afterwards Clive learned that a strong body of French troops, not knowing that Covelong had fallen, was marching from Chingleput to its relief. Clive hid his men in the jungle by the side of the road, and as the French soldiers came up, Clive's men fired, killing a hundred of the French. Then the English dashed out, took 300 prisoners, and chased the remainder to the gates of Chingleput, a very strong fortress, to which they now laid siege. In a day or two a breach was battered in the walls, and Clive was just on the point of giving orders to storm, when the French commander hoisted the white flag and surrendered.

Who but Clive could in so short a time [60] have taught such men the art of war; who but he could have put into them the spirit of soldiers?

In February 1753 he sailed from Madras for England.

Only ten years had passed since he left his native land, but what a change these ten years had made in Clive! He had come out a boy, poor, unhappy, without prospects, and looked upon by his father and his friends as a boy little likely to succeed in life—thought, indeed, to be a "booby." He returned a young man, covered with glory, a hero in the eyes of the world, rich, and brilliantly successful.

What more perfect revenge could he have taken over those who had laughed at him and called him "dunce"! Even his father, who when he first heard that his son was beginning to make a name for himself; had said, "Well, the booby has some sense after all, I suppose," now joined the throng of his son's admirers, and thought that nothing could be too good for his boy. Truly, [61] a wonderful home-coming was this, enough to turn the head of a weaker man.

The Court of Directors of the East India Company gave a great banquet in his honour, and voted him a diamond-hilted sword as a mark of their admiration. But Clive, ever generous, would only accept the sword on condition that a similar one was given to Major Lawrence.

Nor was it only in such acts that Clive's generosity showed itself. He was ever ready to help his friends, to share with his relations all that he possessed. He had brought home with him a considerable fortune, and one of his first acts was to pay all his father's debts, for the old gentleman had got into difficulties from which he could not free himself. Then Clive paid off a mortgage on the old family estate, and settled money on his sisters. His family had good reason indeed to welcome him home.

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