Further Reading: John Company at War

By Bill Gray 04 Sep 2019 0

Most readers know I have authored my own set of Napoleonic miniature rules, to include a plethora of digital expansion modules adding the wars of the latter 19th Century Europe into the mix. Back in January this year the Crawley Wargames Club (This is super weird, I grew up in Crawley-ED) sent me a copy of their own home-brewed addition to my Age of Valor line covering battles in India from around 1740 thru 1865. The group said I could use it as a freebie if I wanted and I said absolutely, why not? So as of right now I am about finished with formatting, adding maps and all I have to say is 'wow'!

Seriously, this is a fascinating period of military history, with large battles, rockets, camels, and even self-propelled artillery with guns mounted and fired on raised, wheeled platforms pulled by oxen and pushed by pachyderms from behind. I also discovered that there was far more coverage of these festivities in the wargaming world than I imagined, particularly in pewter land where there are several product lines supporting the period. Computer games and boardgames also look at the East India Company’s (EIC) military campaigns, mostly at the strategic level, but at the tactical level there is an Empire Total War option available, as well as an upcoming counter/hex entry called Vindaloo from Legion Wargames. This last entry covers four battles fought by then Major General Arthur Wellesley during the 1803 Second-Anglo Maratha War and was one of the last games designed by respected author Richard Berg before his recent passing.

Obviously, I had to bring myself up to snuff to complete the Crawley project, so with that in mind here is my reading list on the wars of the EIC, or as it was called back then, 'John Company'.

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The East India Company, 1600 – 1858: A Short History with Documents (2017)

Ian BarrowAuthor: Ian Barrow
Page: 206
Buy: Amazon

This book gives a brief but necessary overview of the East India Company to supply context to the many military campaigns and battles fought by what was technically a private mercantile corporation.

Yet this same trading company in 1803 counted 260,000 troops in its private Presidency armies, twice the size of the British army the same year. Barrow explains how this happened. It is also short and boasts a plethora of period documents from John Company’s files.

Armies of the East India Company 1750 - 1850 (2009)

Stuart ReedAuthor: Stuart Reid (Illustrated by Gerry Embleton)
Pages: 48
Buy: Amazon

Yes, this is the same author noted elsewhere, but writing for the ubiquitous Osprey Publishing Men at Arms series. As with many, but certainly not all, of the other Osprey publications in this series, there is an overview of organization, weapons, and tactics.

The real meat of the book’s 48 pages is the description of uniforms and the colorful plates that illustrate the subject. The book is also important because it hammers home the point that John Company’s soldiers did most fighting, not the British army, making the Osprey series The British Army on Campaign superfluous in this historical arena.

The Battle of Plassey 1757, the Battle that Won an Empire (2017)

Stuart Reed 2Author: Stuart Reid
Pages: 280
Buy: Amazon

The author is known for writing wargaming friendly books and this tome is no exception. Of course, there is a detailed description of the battle and the environment leading up to the engagement.

But there are also plenty of appendices geared with the wargamer in mind, to include orders of battle, headquarters’ journals, and an excellent introduction on soldiering in the East India Company.

The Decisive Battles of India, from 1746 to 1849 Inclusive (1883)

Author: Colonel George B. Malleson CSI
Buy: Free - Public Domain

The reader should not expect down in the trenches, wargame detail, but this book is nevertheless an excellent overview of all the important battles where John Company was the common denominator. The author knew his subject firsthand. He enrolled as a cadet in the Bengal Infantry, served in the Second Burmese War and ended his career as a civil servant and guardian of the young Maharaja of Mysore. He retired at the rank of colonel in 1877.

The Sikh Army 1799 – 1849 (2005)

Ian Heath2Author: Ian Heath (Illustrated by Michael Perry)
Pages: 48
Buy: Amazon

This is the companion volume to Reed’s Osprey book above, and if nothing else, it shows the EIC had to stand in the back of the room when it came to battle dress pageantry. Yet, this work is far more about the organization, training, tactics, and weapons of the subject army than is Reid’s contribution.

It shows the Sikh’s were no slouches when it came to war, boasting an artillery arm so modern it proved superior to its British and East India Company counterparts.

Wellington’s Campaigns in India (1908)

Author: Chief of Staff Intelligence Division, Government Printing Office, Calcutta
Buy: Free - Google eBooks

At the time the British published it, this document was labelled 'For Official Use Only'. It is typical official military history fare, highly detailed with numerical data to excess. The descriptions of Indian warriors are particularly enlightening, especially as regards weapons and dress.

The First Anglo-Sikh War (2013)

Amarpal SinghAuthor: Armapal S. Sidhu
Pages: 336
Buy: Amazon

There are several things that make this book special. The first is that the author is Indian, and this provides the reader with a unique perspective when compared to standard English language fare.

The second is that the book is divided into two parts, the first on the campaign with chapters covering each major battle, the second a battlefield guide for visitors or simply those who might need photographs to expand Sidhu’s words. Maps include detailed locations and formations of the combatants involved.

The Second Anglo-Sikh War (2016)

Amarpal Singh 2Author: Armapal S. Sidhu
Pages: 560
Buy: Amazon

This is the meaty follow-up to the book above, this time with a foreword by Field Marshal Sir John Chapple GCB CBE. What goes for the earlier entry goes for this tome, except in greater abundance.

History of the Indian Mutiny 1857 – 58, Vols I – VI (1897)

Author: Colonel George B. Malleson
Buy: Free - Public Domain

This is the most famous of Colonel Malleson’s works. He rewrote and expanded the unfinished two-volume history of the Sepoy Rebellion by military historian Sir John Kaye out to a full six volumes.

The result was a very detailed, semi-official history of the revolt, one that remains definitive to this day.

The Great Mutiny: India 1857 (1980)

Chris HibbertAuthor: Christopher Hibbert
Pages: 472
Buy: Amazon

If Malleson is a bit too much, a great alternative is this book by award-winning author Chris Hibbert. The Economist called it, “'By far the best single-volume description of the mutiny yet written”, and close to 40 years later it still does not feel dated.

Memoir of the life and military services of Viscount Lake Baron Lake of Delhi and Laswaree, 1744-1808 (1908)

Author: Colonel Hugh Pearse
Buy: Free - Public Domain

This is a biography of the man in charge of British fortunes during the Second Anglo-Maratha War, the same little spat where Arthur Wellesley began his rise to prominence. This well documented book supports its prose with numerous footnotes and is written in a lively yet detailed narrative style. Like most books of this ilk, it has unique value because it conveys what the author remembers he saw, not necessarily actual truth, and does so through the prejudicial lens of a 19th-Century mind.

The British Troops in the Indian Mutiny 1857 – 1859 (1994)

Michael BarthorpAuthor: Michael Barthorp (Illustrated by Douglas Anderson)
Pages: 48
Buy: Amazon

Now that you have Malleson under your belt, this little book can fill in the details of at least some of the armies involved.

This Osprey publication includes chapters on the opposing armies, the organization, equipment, and weapons thereof, and an interesting concluding section on how soldiers dressed in the field. This type of research is always welcome as it brings some reality to the pristine, parade ground pretty spectacle that Hollywood History provides.

Queen Victoria’s Enemies Vol III: India (1990)

Ian KnightAuthor: Ian Knight (Illustrated by Richard Scollins)
Pages: 48
Buy: Amazon

This is yet another Osprey Men at Arms paperback that serves as a catch-all for everyone in India who fought John Company on a minor scale. The only exception is the Anglo-Sikh conflicts, included as they did fall under Queen Victoria’s reign.

The no-so-loyal opposition covered includes soldiers from Afghanistan 1839-42, Sind and Gwalior 1843-45, the Sikh Wars 1845-49, the Indian Mutiny 1857-59, the North-West Frontier 1849-78, and Afghanistan 1878-81. As with all books in this merchandise line, there are multiple pages of color plates of the warriors who took the field.

There are, of course, more books on this period, and even more subjects within deserving of mention. Here the reader must explore on his own, because to paraphrase the Good Book, “Sikh and ye shall find”.

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