First battle of Trichinopoly or battle of the Golden Rock, 7 July 1753

First battle of Trichinopoly or battle of the Golden Rock, 7 July 1753

The first battle of Trinchinopoly or Battle of the Golden Rock (7 July 1753) was the first of three significant British victories fought outside the city during the long siege of Trichinopoly of 1753-54 (Second Carnatic War).

The British had successfully defended Trichinopoly against the French and their allies in 1751-52, but late in the year their Maratha and Mysorean allies changed side. The siege was renewed at the start of 1753, and both sides soon rushed reinforcements to the city. The British soon had a force of around 500 Europeans, 1,300 Sepoys, and an uncertain number of Indian cavalry, under the command of Major Stringer Lawrence, while the French had 400 Europeans, 1,500 trained Sepoys, 1,200 partially trained Sepoys, 8,000 Mysorean cavalry, 3,500 Maratha cavalry and 15,000 irregular infantry (this last force was of little practical value).

Astruc took advantage of his greater numbers to capture the Five Rocks, a key position to the south of the city. Lawrence now only had one line of communication with the outside world, via the rocky outcropping known as the Golden Rock. The French could have blockaded the British, who were now in a desperate position, but instead Astruc decided to capture the Golden Rock, a move that would have forced Lawrence to retreat from his camp into Trichinopoly.

Astruc made his move on the morning of 7 July. He waited until some of the British Sepoys were receiving their rations, and then attacked with his grenadiers and his best Sepoys. After a fierce battle the French captured the Golden Heights, and the French flag flew from the rock.

Lawrence was alerted soon after the French attack began. He gathered a force of 300 European infantry, 80 British gunners and 500 Sepoys, and advanced towards the rock, hoping to aid the garrison. He arrived too late, and instead found himself in a very dangerous position. The French had troops on top of the Golden Rock, Sepoys and grenadiers to the left of the rock with artillery on their flanks, Maratha cavalry harassing his flanks and the rest of the Maratha army close to the rear.

Lawrence realised that his only hope of victory was to attack. His grenadiers and a force of Sepoys were sent to storm the Golden Rock, while his main force attacked the French infantry.

Astruc ordered his Indian troops to attack the British flanks and rear, and his infantry to hold their fire until the flanking attacks had begun. He failed to notice the British grenadiers and Sepoys on the Golden Rock, who reached the summit without firing a shot, and forced the French troops off the hill. The victorious British then opened fire on the French right flank, catching them by surprise. As the French wavered, Lawrence's main force fired a volley and then launched a bayonet charge. Despite Astruc's best efforts, his French troops turned and fled back to the shelter of their Indian allies. The Maratha horse covered their retreat, leaving Lawrence in possession of the Golden Rock.

Despite this success, Lawrence knew that he didn’t have enough men to hold the Golden Rock and his main camp. After three hours at the foot of the rock he began to retreat back to his camp, coming under attack from the Maratha cavalry. Lawrence formed his men into a formation described in some sources as a moving square but in others as having his infantry in platoons on the left and right flanks, with the field guns at the front and rear. Whichever formation he used, the Maratha cavalry were unable to break it, and eventually broke off the attack. Lawrence was able to return to his camp.

The victory allowed the British to get fresh supplies into the city. Lawrence then left with most of his army, partly to join up with reinforcements and partly to win the King of Tanjore over to his side. On his return he was forced to fight his way past the French, winning the second battle of Trichinopoly (18 August 1753).

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