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Bengal Army

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Bengal Army

Bengal Army
Active 1756–1895 (as the Bengal Army)
1895–1908 (as the Bengal Command of the Indian Army)
Branch British Indian Army
Type Command
Size 105,000 (1876)[1]
Garrison/HQ Nainital, Nainital district

The Bengal Army was the army of the Bengal Presidency, one of the three presidencies of British India within the British Empire.

The Presidency armies, like the presidencies themselves, belonged to the East India Company (EIC) until the Government of India Act 1858 (passed in the aftermath of the Indian Rebellion of 1857) transferred all three presidencies to the direct authority of the British Crown.

In 1895 all three presidency armies were merged into the Indian Army.

Early History

The Bengal Army originated from its European Regiment which was formed in 1756.[2] The following year the first locally recruited unit of Bengal sepoys was created in the form of the Lal Paltan battalion. It was recruited mainly from the Bhumihar, Bihari Rajputs, and Pathan soldiers that served in the Nawab's Army from Bihar and the Awadh (Oudh). There were actually no soldiers from the modern Bengal region. Drilled and armed along British army lines this force served well at the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and 20 more Indian battalions were raised by 1764. The EIC steadily expanded its Bengal Army and by 1796 the establishment was set at three battalions of European artillery, three regiments of European infantry, ten regiments of Indian cavalry and twelve regiments (each of two battalions) of Indian infantry.[3]

In 1824 the Bengal Army underwent reorganisation, with the regular infantry being grouped into 68 single battalion regiments numbered according to their date of establishment. Nine additional infantry regiments were subsequently raised, though several existing units were disbanded between 1826 and 1843. A new feature in the Bengal Army was the creation of irregular infantry and cavalry regiments during the 1840s.[4] These were permanently established units but with less formal drill and fewer British officers than the regular Bengal line regiments. The main source of recruitment continued to be high caste Brahmins and Rajputs from Bihar and Oudh, although the eight regular cavalry regiments consisted mainly of Muslim Pathan sowars. During the 1840s and early 1850s numbers of Nepalese Gurkhas and Sikhs from the Punjab were however accepted in the Bengal Army. Both Gurkhas and Sikhs served in separate units but some of the latter were incorporated into existing Bengal infantry regiments.


A total of 64 Bengal Army regular infantry and cavalry regiments rebelled during the Indian Mutiny, or were disbanded after their continued loyalty was considered doubtful.[1] From 1858 onwards the actual high-caste Hindu presence in the Bengal Army was reduced[5] because of their perceived primary role as mutineers in the 1857 rebellion.[6] The new and less homogeneous Bengal Army was essentially drawn from Punjabi Muslims, Sikhs, Gurkhas, Baluchis and Pathans, although twelve of the pre-mutiny Bengal line infantry regiments continued in service with the same basis of recruitment, traditions and uniform colours as before.[7]

A largely unspoken rationale was that an army of diverse origins was unlikely to unite in rebellion.[8]

Post Mutiny

In 1895 the three separate Presidency Armies were abolished and the Army of India was divided into four commands, each commanded by a lieutenant-general. These comprised Madras (including Burma), Punjab (including the North West Frontier), Bengal and Bombay (including Aden).[9]

The Bengal Presidency at its greatest extent in 1858
Soldiers of the 1st European Bengal Fusiliers, pre-1862

Composition (pre-mutiny)

The Bengal Army included some of the most famous units in India: Skinner's Horse from Bengal, the Gurkhas from the Himalayas and the Corps of Guides on the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Despite the name, the actual ethnic Bengali presence was minimal to non-existent. It was mainly recruited from high castes living in Bihar and the Awadh.[10] Especially Bihari Rajputs and Bhumihars.


  • Governor General's Bodyguard
  • 1st to 10th Bengal Light Cavalry Regiments. Eight of these regular regiments mutinied and two were disbanded during 1857-58. None were carried over into the post-Mutiny army.[11]
  • 1st to 4th Bengal European Light Cavalry Regiments. Recruited hastily in Britain in November 1857 to replace the eight regiments of Bengal Light Cavalry which had mutinied. The mention of "European" in the name indicated that it consisted of white soldiers rather than Indian sowars. In 1861, all four European regiments were transferred to the British Army as the 19th, 20th and 21st Hussars.[12]
  • 1st Irregular Cavalry (Skinner's Horse)
  • 2nd to 18th Irregular Cavalry Regiments
  • Jodhpore Legion Cavalry
  • Bundelkhand Legion Cavalry
  • Gwalior Contingent Cavalry
  • Kotah Contingent Cavalry
  • Bhopal Contingent Cavalry
  • United Malwa Contingent Cavalry
  • Ramgarh Irregular Cavalry
  • Nagpore Irregular Cavalry
  • 1st to 3rd Oudh Irregular Cavalry Regiments
  • 1st, 2nd and 3rd Regiments of Hodson's Horse
  • 1st to 4th Sikh Irregular Cavalry Regiments
  • The Jat Horse Yeomanry
  • Rohilkhand Horse
  • The Muttra Horse
  • Alexander's Horse
  • Barrow's Volunteers
  • Behar Irregular Cavalry
  • Belooch Horse
  • Benares Horse
  • Bengal Yeomanry Cavalry
  • Calcutta Volunteer Guards
  • De Kantzow's Irregular Cavalry
  • Graham's Horse
  • 2nd Gwalior Cavalry
  • 2nd Gwalior Mahratta Horse
  • H.H. The Guicowar's Horse
  • Jackson's Volunteer Horse
  • Jellandhar Cavalry
  • Lahore Light Horse
  • 1st Mahratta Horse
  • Meerut Light Horse
  • Peshawar Light Horse
  • Rajghazi Volunteer Cavalry
  • The Volunteer Cavalry
  • Lind's and Cureton's Risalahs of Pathan Horse
  • 2nd Mahratta Horse
  • Fane's Horse
  • The Corps of Guides, Punjab Irregular Force
  • 1st to 5th Regiments of Cavalry of the Punjab Irregular Force


  • Bengal Horse Artillery
  • Bengal European Foot Artillery
  • Bengal Native Foot Artillery
  • Punjab Horse Artillery, Punjab Irregular Force



  • 1st Bengal (European) Fusiliers
  • 2nd Bengal (European) Fusiliers
  • 3rd Bengal (European) Light Infantry
  • 4th, 5th and 6th Bengal European Regiments
  • 1st Regiment of Punjab Bengal Native Infantry
  • 2nd to 74th Regiments of Bengal Native Infantry (including Goorkha 66th Regiment of Bengal Native Infantry). Of these regular regiments only twelve (the 21st, 31st, 32nd 33rd, 42nd, 43rd, 47th 59th, 63rd, 65th, 66th and 70th BNI) escaped mutiny or disbandment to survive into the post-Mutiny army.[13]
  • The Alipore Regiment
  • The Ramgarh Light Infantry
  • 3rd Local Battalion
  • The Sirmoor Rifle Regiment
  • The Kamaoon Battalion
  • 1st Assam Light Infantry
  • 11th Sylhet Local Light Infantry
  • The Mhairwara Battalion
  • 2nd Assam Light Infantry
  • Joudpore Legion
  • Oudh Irregular Force
  • Narbudda Sebundy Corps
  • Shekhawati Battalion
  • Harianna Light Infantry
  • Regiment of Khelat-i-Gilzie
  • Malwa Bheel Corps
  • Kotah Contingent
  • Mehidpore Contingent
  • Gwalior Contingent
  • Malwa Contingent
  • Bhopal Contingent
  • Regiment of Ferozepore
  • Regiment of Ludhiana
  • Camel Corps
  • Nusseree Battalion
  • Nagpore Irregular Force
  • Deoli Irregular Force
  • Regiment of Lucknow
  • Mhair Regiment
  • Kamroop Regiment
  • Landhoor Rangers
  • Kuppurthala Contingent
  • 1st and 2nd Gwalior Regiments
  • Allahabad Levy
  • Shahjehanpur Levy
  • Cawnpore Levy
  • Fatehgarh Levy
  • Moradabad Levy
  • Mynpoorie Levy
  • Sealkote Infantry Levy
  • Bareilly Levy
  • Goojramwallah Levy
  • Meerut Levy
  • Kumaon Levy
  • Agra Levy
  • Cole and Sonthal Levy
  • Rajpoot Levy
  • Loyal Purbeah Regiment
  • Corps of Guides, Punjab Irregular Force
  • 1st to 4th Sikh Infantry Regiments of the Punjab Irregular Force
  • 1st to 6th Punjab Infantry Regiments of the Punjab Irregular Force
  • 7th to 24th Regiments of Punjab Infantry, of which the 15th and 24th were pioneer regiments


  • 1st Bengal Military Police Battalion


Because the Bengal Army was the largest of the three Presidency Armies, its Commander-in-Chief was, from 1853 to 1895, also Commander-in-Chief, India.[14]
Commander-in-Chief, Bengal Command

See also


  1. ^ a b Raugh, p. 55
  2. ^ Raugh, p. 46
  3. ^ Mollo, pp. 13-14
  4. ^ Mollo, pp. 51-52
  5. ^
  6. ^ Bickers and Tiedemann, p. 231
  7. ^ W.Y. Carman, pages 107-108, "Indian Army Uniforms" Morgan-Grampian Books 1969
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ Mollo, p. 93
  12. ^ Mollo, pp. 91-92
  13. ^ Carmen, p. 107
  14. ^ Raugh, p. 45


Further reading

  • Stubbs, Francis W. Major-General., History Of The Organization, Equipment, And War Services Of The Regiment Of Bengal Artillery, Compiled From Published Works, Official Records, And Various Private Sources (London. Volumes 1 & 2. Henry S. King, 1877. Volume 3. W.H. Allen, 1895). A full detailed history with maps, appendices, etc.
  • Cardew, F. G., Sketch of the Services of the Bengal Native Army: To the Year 1895 (Calcutta: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, 1903, reprinted by Naval and Military Press Ltd., 2005, ISBN 1-84574-186-2) Contents: Chapter I: 1599–1767; II. 1767–1796; III. 1797–1814; IV. 1814–1824; V. 1824–1838; VI. 1838–1845; VII. 1845–1857; VIII. 1857–1861; IX. 1862–1979; X. 1878–1881; XI. 1882–1890; XII. 1891–1895; Appendix: I. A Chronological List of the Corps of the Bengal Army, Showing particulars of their origin and their subsequent history; II. Existing Corps of the Bengal Army, Showing Dates of Raising and Changes in their Titles; III. Commanders-in-chief of the Bengal Army; IV. Chronology list of the Services of the Bengal Native Army; Index.
  • Stanley, Peter, White Mutiny: British Military Culture in India 1825-75 (Christopher Hurst, London, 1998).
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