On April 24th, 1855, a monumental shift in French policy had finally manifested itself – the invasion of the sub-continent of India was beginning. The invasion force, while considerably small compared to the expected forces of the British within the sub-continent, were the elite of the elite of the French Army. Even before the departure of the 100,000 strong invasion force, back home in France additional soldiers were being trained and prepared to reinforce the first expedition.
On May 5th, the first battle of the campaign would unfurl at Madurai where 21,000 British troops against a detachment of 30,000 Imperial Guard soldiers. After just mere hours, the British attackers – who had thought the presence of large French troops impossible – had suffered over 9,000 causalities compared to the Guard’s 1,000. A loud message had been sent to the Crown’s subjects in its jewel – their life and treasure was in peril. Quickly following the first battle of Madurai, a detachment of native soldiers was dealt with for very few losses – another 9,000 enemies compared to about 1,090 French soldiers.
Though these first two battles proved to be beneficial to the morale of the soldiers after a long voyage across the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, any benefit would soon be reversed. British reinforcements from the north of India were spotted by various points of contact that France’s troops had been capable of establishing since the previous war. In the middle of July, beginning on the 14th and ending on the 15th, over 120,000 soldiers would clash near Jaffna. At first, a small detachment of French regulars were caught unprepared against the large force of British regulars (50,000). The French regulars paid heavily for this, suffering good 7,000 or so causalities on the first day. Overnight the Imperial Guard arrived to reinforce the situation and repulse the expected British attack in the morning. In the end result, over the two day battle the British suffered 10 percent causalities of a 50,000 force; while the French suffered close to 13 percent for 9,875.
Although France held the field at the end of day on July 15th, it was no victory. The very next day would prove the true strength of the British forces as a large army over 100,000 British soldiers made contact with a force of close to 21,000 French cavalry. The outcome was to say the least, miraculous. The smaller force was capable of skirmishing the British around, causing close to 2,300 losses, but suffered nearly 3,000 themselves – mostly due to unfamiliar terrain.
The cavalry under August Billot were to play an important part as the rear guard of the French expedition. Orders had been received to retreat from the mainland as British forces were too numerous at the time. Additional reinforcements would be arriving over the winter months. But on August 3rd, Billot’s important part of history would make itself made. The now 123.000 strong British army under Colbert Moresby would smash against Billot’s 18,000 cavalry men – claiming over 11,000 of them either as prisoners, wounded, killed or missing.
The young Emperor’s first foray into the mainland of India was an unmitigated