The Second Carnatic War (1749-54) was a struggle for power between various Indian claimants, each supported by the French or the British. The First Carnatic War had been a direct conflict between the two European powers, but in the Second Carnatic War both of them officially acted in support of rival local claimants in Hyderabad and the Carnatic.
The war was triggered by a succession struggle in Hyderabad, where the Nizam was officially the viceroy of the Mughal Emperor, but he was increasingly able to act as a semi-independent Nizam of Hyderabad.
The incumbent, Nizam-al-Mulk, died in 1748, nominating his grandson Muzaffar Jang as his heir. This appointment was confirmed by the Emperor, but was contested by Nizam-al-Mulk’s second son Nasir Jang. Nasir Jang was able to take possession of Hyderabad, while Muzaffar Jang travelled in search of allies. In the upcoming struggle the British supported Nasir Jang, while the French supported Muzaffar Jang. Further south there were also two candidates for the Nawabship of the Carnatic, a subsidiary post officially dependent on the Nizam.
Anwar-ud-Din had only been appointed Nawab of the Carnatic in 1743, after Nizam-ul-Mulk had been forced to intervene to restore order in the province. He was one of the Nizam’s officers, and so the death of his protector left him vulnerable. He would be killed early in the war, leaving his son Mohammed Ali to claim the Nawabship.
Chanda Sahib was the son-in-law of a previous Nawab of the Carnatic, Dost Ali (1732-39). He had been an effective ally to the French, before in 1741 being besieged in Trichinopoly by the Marathas. After a three month long siege he was captured and imprisoned, although his family remained safe in Pondicherry.
While travelling in search of allies Muzaffar Jang met the imprisoned Chanda Sahib. The French agreed to pay his ransom, and provided him with 2,000 Sepoys and 400 European soldiers.
Muzaffar Jang and Chanda Sahib then advanced towards Arcot, the capitol of the Carnatic. Anwar-ud-Din met them at Ambur (3 August 1748), southwest of Arcot, where he was defeated and killed. They entered Arcot, and Chanda Sahib became the de facto Nawab of the Carnatic. The allies then moved to Pondicherry, before wasting a significant amount of time besieging Tanjore. This siege lasted into December 1750, but had to be lifted when Nasir Jang appeared on the scene at the head of a large army.
By the end of March 1751 the two main armies were facing each other near Gingee. Nasir Jang had his own forces, as well as 600 European troops provided by the British East India Company and a larger force under Mohammad Ali. He was facing the combined armies of Muzaffar Jang and Chanda Sahib, with a French contingent.
The two armies faced each other for the next two weeks. During this period the French position appeared to collapse. The French troops mutinied, weakening the entire army. Muzaffar Jang was so worried about the situation that he surrendered to Nasir Jang. Dupleix restored his position with a dramatic night attack on Nasir Jang’s camp (12 April). This was so successful that Nasir Jang retreated back to Arcot.
With their main ally gone, the British retreated to Fort St. David, leaving Mohammed Ali isolated. The French decided to take advantage of their enemy’s setbacks by occupying a strong position at Tiruvadi, dangerously close to Fort St. David.
Both Nasir Jang and the British reinforced Mohammad Ali, who then launched an attack on the French position. This ended in defeat (first battle of Tiruvadi, 30 July 1750). In the aftermath of this defeat the British argued with Mohammad Ali and returned to Fort St. David, leaving him dangerously exposed to attack.
The French took advantage of this, and on 1 September inflicted a second defeat on him (second battle of Tiruvadi). Mohammad Ali’s army retreated to the strong fortress of Gingee, where it suffered yet another defeat (battle of Gingee, 11 September 1750). In the aftermath of this disaster, Nasir Jang decided to advance from Arcot, but no battle resulted. Instead the two armies settled down into a two-month long deadlock close to Gingee.
Nasir Jang soon entered into negotiations with Dupleix, but on 16 December he was killed by some of his own supporters. Muzaffar Jang, who had been with Nasir Jang’s army, was acclaimed as Nizam. The French supported candidates were now in power in Hyderabad and the Carnatic. In mid December 1750, Muzaffar Jang was officially proclaimed as Viceroy of the Deccan, in a lavish ceremony held in a splendid tent in the central square of Pondicherry. Dupleix sat alongside the new Nizam, and was seen to share in his power. Dupleix was appointed Nawab of the area south of the River Krishna, down to Cape Comorin, while Chandra Sahib was recognised as Nawab of the Carnatic. The French was also granted new possessions close to Pondicherry, and a vast amount of money.
The only remaining obstacle to French dominance in southern India was Mohammad Ali, who had taken shelter at Trichinopoly. Early in 1751 negotiations began between Mohammad Ali and Dupleix, and it looked to only be a matter of time before the issue was resolved.
When Muzaffar Jang asked for French soldiers to accompany him on his return to Hyderabad, Dupleix was thus happy to agree, sending Bussy with 300 Europeans and 2,000 Sepoys.
The journey north ended disastrously for Muzaffar Jang, who was killed in a clash with the same people who had earlier betrayed Nasir Jang. Bussy retrieved the situation, and Muzaffar Jang’s uncle Salabat Jang was appointed as the next Nizam. The new Nizam and his French allies reached his capital of Aurangabad on 29 June 1751, and with Bussy’s aid Salabat Jang became firmly established.
Dupleix had misjudged Muhammad Ali. He now made it clear that he would not surrender Trichinopoly and began to openly cooperate with the British.
At first this appeared to be only a minor nuisance. The British and Mohammed Ali were defeated at Volkondah (19-20 July 1751) and forced to retreat into Trichinopoly, where they were besieged by the French and their allies. Most British troops in southern India were now trapped, although Robert Clive, who had been at Volkondah, returned to Fort St. David. If Trichinopoly fell, the French would have been triumphant in Southern India, and the British restricted to their tiny footholds on the coast.
The British position was partly restored by Robert Clive’s first major success. After getting a convoy into Trichinopoly he returned to Fort St. David, where he suggested a dramatic way to distract Chanda Sahib. He believed that Chanda Sahib’s capital of Arcot would be weakly defended and could be captured with the limited forces available on the coast.
The plan was approved, and Clive was given 500 men. With this tiny force he captured Arcot, and then successfully defended it against a counterattack led by Chanda Sahib’s son Raju Sahib (siege of Arcot, September-November 1751). This success restored British prestige in southern India, badly damaged over the previous years, and began to erode support for Dupleix.
After the siege Clive pursued Raju Sahib, inflicting a defeat on him at Arni (3 December 1751). He then captured Conjeveram (16-18 December 1751), before returning to Fort St. David. Conjeveram was soon retaken by Raju Sahib, who then threatened Madras. Clive was forced to abandon his preparations to lift the siege of Trichinopoly, and instead moved to Conjeveram.
This time no siege was required, for Raju Sahib had already moved towards Arcot. Clive followed, but in his eagerness to prevent the fall of Arcot fell into an ambush. The resulting battle of Kaveripak (28 February 1752) was a hard fought battle that ended as a British victory.
Clive was then recalled to continue with the relief of Trichinopoly, although command of the army passed to Stringer Lawrence, who had returned after a visit to England. In late March the British relief force successfully entered Trichinopoly, eluded a series of French attempts to intercept them. Law, the French commander at Trichinopoly, effectively abandoned the siege and retreated onto the island of Srirangam.
The tables were now turned, and the French were besieged on Srirangam (April-13 June 1752). A French relief force surrendered at Volconda, and on 13 June Law surrendered. Chanda Sahib surrendered on terms, but was then murdered by order of the commander of the Tanjore force, and his head sent to Mohammad Ali, who for a brief spell was the uncontested Nabob of the Carnatic.
After their success at Trichinopoly, the British moved north into the Carnatic, but they were soon forced to return after Mohammad Ali fell out with his Maratha and Mysorean allies. The British left a stronger garrison in the city. Their campaign in the Carnatic was thus hampered by the reduced size of their army, although Tiruvadi was captured on 17 July. Stringer was then forced back to Fort St. David by illness, as was Clive, leaving the less able Swiss officer Gingen in command. The British then weakened their own position by attempting to capture Gingee (6 August 1752), but this attack ended in failure and a costly defeat.
Dupleix took advantage of the arguments between Mohammad Ali and his allies. The Mysoreans and Marathas agreed to change sides, although only if the main British army could be distracted. Dupleix responded by sending a force towards Fort St. David. The British gathered a similar sized army at Madras, and moved to block the French, They withdrew towards Pondicherry.
Once they were on French territory, Dupleix’s men were safe, for the British were under orders not to cross the border. The British then retreated in apparent disorder, and the French followed. The British then turned back and attacked the French, winning a significant victory over them at Bahur (6 September 1752).
The British made the next move. Mohammad Ali asked them to capture the French-held fortresses of Covelong and Chingleput, around thirty miles to the south of Madras. Governor Saunders agreed, but had limited resources available.
Clive volunteered to take command of this army, and successfully captured Covelong in September and Chinglapet in October. After these successes Clive’s poor health forced him to return to England to recuperate, leaving Lawrence as the key British commander in the last years of the war.
The last two years of the war were dominated by a renewed French siege of Trichinopoly, and by a series of battles fought close to the town. Dupleix spent the last months of 1752 trying to detach Britain’s Maratha and Mysore allies, and by the end of the year he had succeeded. The British at Trichinopoly found themselves blockaded by their former Mysorean allies on Srirangam, and by the Maratha cavalry elsewhere.
For much of the next two years the British appeared to be on the back foot, often short of supplies and penned in around Trichinopoly, although they normally had a field army in the area (commanded by Stringer Lawrence), and the blockade was often broken.
Three significant battles were fought outside the besieged city during the year. Despite British successes the siege dragged on. A French assault on the city on 9 December nearly succeeded, and supplies began to run very short during the spring of 1754. In May the British won another victory, allowing another convoy to reach the city. The danger finally ended when Lawrence returned with a sizable army in August, and pushed the French back to Srirangam. In the same month Dupleix was recalled to France, where his failures at Trichinopoly had fatally undermined his position.
Dupleix was replaced by M. Godeheu, who had orders from Paris to negotiate an end to the fighting. Governor Saunders had received similar orders from London, and in late October 1754 the two men agreed to a suspension of arms. In January 1755 a conditional peace treaty was agreed, officially ending the Second Carnatic War (although it is generally considered to have ended in 1754, when the fighting stopped).
Although the war ended with a series of French setbacks, they had actually gained the most from the fighting. Their candidate held the post of Nizam of Hyderabad, and they had been rewarded with most of the Northern Circars (now the coast of Andra Pradesh, to the north-east of the Carnatic). They had also gained a significant amount of territory around Pondicherry. The British had also gained some land around Madras, but the French appeared to be the big winners.