Bengal Army

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

Bengal Army
Active1756–1895 (as the Bengal Army)
1895–1908 (as the Bengal Command of the Indian Army)
Branch British Indian Army
Size105,000 (1876)[1]
Garrison/HQNainital, Nainital district

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.



The Bengal Army originated with the establishment of a European Regiment in 1756.[2] While the East India Company had previously maintained a small force of Dutch and Eurasian mercenaries in Bengal, this was destroyed when Calcutta was captured by the Nawab of Bengal on 30 June that year.[3]

Under East India Company

In 1757 the first locally recruited unit of Bengal sepoys was created in the form of the Lal Paltan battalion. It was recruited from Bhumihar, Bihari Rajputs and Pathan soldiers that had served in the Nawab's Army from Bihar and the Awadh (Oudh) who were collectively called Purbiyas. 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.[4]

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. On the eve of the First Afghan War (1839–42) the Bengal Army had achieved a dominant role in the forces of the HEIC. There were 74 battalions of Bengal regular infantry against only 52 from Madras, 26 from Bombay and 24 British (Queen's and Company). On average an inch and a half taller and a stone heavier than the southern Indian troops, the Bengal sepoy was highly regarded by a military establishment that tended to evaluate its soldiers by physical appearance.[5]

A new feature in the Bengal Army was the creation of irregular infantry and cavalry regiments during the 1840s.[6] Originally designated as "Local Infantry" these were permanently established units but with less formal drill and fewer British officers than the regular Bengal line regiments.[7]

The main source of recruitment continued to be high caste Brahmins and Rajputs from Bihar and Oudh,[8] although the eight regular cavalry regiments consisted mainly of Muslim Pathan sowars. During the 1840s and early 1850s numbers of Nepalese Gurkhas and Jatsikhs from the Punjab were however accepted in the Bengal Army. Both Gurkhas and Jatsikhs served in separate units but some of the latter were incorporated into existing Bengal infantry regiments.

Another innovation introduced prior to 1845 was to designate specific regiments as "Volunteers" - that is recruited for general service, with sepoys who had accepted a commitment for possible overseas duty. Recruits for the Bengal Army who were prepared to travel by ship if required, received a special allowance or batta.[9] Two of these BNI regiments were serving in China in 1857 and so escaped any involvement in the great rebellion of that year.[10]


A total of 64 Bengal Army regular infantry and cavalry regiments rebelled during the Indian Rebellion of 1857, or were disbanded after their continued loyalty was considered doubtful.[1] From 1858 onwards the actual high-caste Awadhi and Bihari Hindu presence in the Bengal Army was reduced[11] because of their perceived primary role as "mutineers" in the 1857 rebellion.[12] 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.[13]

A largely unspoken rationale was that an army of diverse origins was unlikely to unite in rebellion.[14]

Post 1857

End of the separate Bengal Army

In 1895 the three separate Presidency Armies began a process of unification which was not to be concluded until the Kitchener reforms of eight years later.[15] As an initial step the Army of India was divided into four commands, each commanded by a lieutenant-general. These comprised Bengal, Bombay (including Aden), Madras (including Burma) and Punjab (including the North West Frontier).[16] In 1903 the separately numbered regiments of the Bombay, Madras and Bengal Armies were unified in a single organisational sequence and the presidency affiliations disappeared.[17]

The Bengal infantry units in existence at the end of the Presidency era continued as the senior regiments (1st Brahmans to 48th Pioneers of the newly unified Indian Army.[18]

Ethnic composition

The Bengal Army of the East India Company was mainly recruited from high castes living in Bihar and the Awadh.[19]

Both prior to and following 1857, the Bengal Army included what were to become 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.



Regular regiments

  • Governor General's Bodyguard
  • 1st to 10th Bengal Light Cavalry Regiments (see 3rd and 5th Regiments). Eight of these regular regiments mutinied and two were disbanded during 1857–58. None were carried over into the post-Mutiny army.[20]
  • 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.[21]

Irregular units

  • 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

The following units were absorbed into the Royal Horse Artillery after the passing of the provisions of the Government of India Act 1858,[22] becoming part of the British Army:

Bengal European Foot Artillery

Bengal Native Foot Artillery

Punjab Horse Artillery, Punjab Irregular Force



Regular regiments

  • 1st Bengal (European) Fusiliers
  • 2nd Bengal (European) Fusiliers
  • 3rd Bengal (European) Light Infantry
  • 4th, 5th and 6th Bengal European Regiments
  • 1st 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.[23] As such they retained a number of features and traditions of the "old" Bengal Army, such as the wearing of red coats. The remainder of the regiments making up the "new" Bengal Army were derived from a mixture of irregular units already in existence before the Mutiny, plus Punjabis, Sikhs and Gurkhas. Local corps, levies and even police battalions raised for the suppression of the Mutiny were in some cases transformed into new regular infantry regiments, which brought the total number up to 49.[23]

Irregular units

  • 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.[24]
Commander-in-Chief, Bengal Command

See also


  1. Raugh, p. 55
  2. Raugh, p. 46
  3. Reid, Stuart. Armies of the East India Company 1750-1850. p. 5. ISBN 978-1-84603-460-2.
  4. Mollo, pp. 13-14
  5. Mason, Philip. A Matter of Honour - An Account of the Indian Army, its Officers and Men. pp. 194–195. ISBN 0-333-41837-9.
  6. Mollo, pp. 51-52
  7. Creese, Michael. Swords Trembling in Their Scabbards. The Changing Status of Indian Officers in the Indian Army 1757-1947. pp. 26–27. ISBN 9-781909-982819.
  8. Mason, Philip. A Matter of Honour - An Account of the Indian Army, its Officers and Men. p. 125. ISBN 0-333-41837-9.
  9. Wagner, Kim A. The Great Fear of 1857. p. 37. ISBN 978-93-81406-34-2.
  10. MacMunn, Lt. Gen. Sir George. The Armies of India. p. 100. ISBN 0-947554-02-5.
  11. David, Saul. The Indian Mutiny. p. 377. ISBN 0-141-00554-8.
  12. Bickers and Tiedemann, p. 231
  13. W.Y. Carman, pages 107-108, "Indian Army Uniforms" Morgan-Grampian Books 1969
  14. Mason, Philip. A Matter of Honour. pp. 320 & 326 & 359. ISBN 0-333-41837-9.
  15. Gaylor, John. Sons of John Company. The Indian & Pakistan Armies 1903-1991. p. 2. ISBN 0-946771-98-7.
  16. "Northern Command". Retrieved 5 July 2013.
  17. Gaylor, John. Sons of John Company. The Indian & Pakistan Armies 1903-1991. p. 3. ISBN 0-946771-98-7.
  18. Carmen, pp. 225-226
  19. Hiltebeitel, Alf (1999). "Rethinking India's Oral and Classical Epics: Draupadi among Rajputs, Muslims and Dalits". University of Chicago Press. p. 308. ISBN 978-0226340500.
  20. Mollo, p. 93
  21. Mollo, pp. 91-92
  22. "Official, India". World Digital Library. 1890–1923. Retrieved 30 May 2013.
  23. Carmen, p. 107
  24. Raugh, p. 45


  • Bickers, Robert A.; Tiedemann, R. G. (2007). The Boxers, China, and the World. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-7425-5395-8.
  • Carmen (1969). Indian Army Uniforms under the British from the 18th century to 1947. Artillery, Engineers and Infantry. Morgan-Grampian Books Ltd. ISBN 978-0249439564.
  • Mollo, Boris (1981). The Indian Army. Littlehampton Book Services Ltd. ISBN 978-0713710748.
  • Raugh, Harold (2004). The Victorians at War, 1815-1914: An Encyclopedia of British Military History. ABC-CLIO Ltd. ISBN 978-1576079256.

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.
  • Malleson, George Bruce (1857). The Mutiny of the Bengal Army. London: Bosworth and Harrison.
  • Stanley, Peter, White Mutiny: British Military Culture in India 1825-75 (Christopher Hurst, London, 1998).
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