The French occupation of Egypt in 1798 opened up the strategic possibility of an overland advance on India, where Tipu Sultan of Mysore, intent on vengeance against the British for their attacks on his state six years earlier, was openly courting French support. Troops of the East India Company, reinforced by British regulars that included the 33rd Foot under Colonel Arthur Wellesley, invaded Mysore from both East and West in 1799. On 4th May, after a short siege, the capital, Seringapatam, was taken and the army of Tipu was destroyed. Among the 10,000 dead was Tipu himself.
This left the East India Company in complete control of southern India, but brought it into direct confrontation with the Mahratta Confederacy further North. Two of the Mahratta leaders, Daulat Rao of Scindia and Ragoji Bhonsla of Berar, combined forces in 1803 to create an army of nearly 100,000 men. In response the British Commander-in-Chief, Lord Lake (last seen in Ireland in 1798), ordered a two-pronged assault on Scindia to protect Company possessions at Bombay in the West and Calcutta in the North-East. Taking personal command in the North, Lake assembled an army of 10,000 men at Cawnpore and in July 1803, set out up the River Ganges to seize the fortress at Aligarh. From there he advanced to take Delhi before moving South to Agra.
On 1st November he defeated the remains of the northern Mahratta army at Laswari and a month later entered Gwalior, the capital of Scindia. Meanwhile, further South, Wellesley (now a major-general) had advanced from Poonain August 1803 to capture Ahmednagar. The mahrattas fell back to Assaye where, on 23rd September, Wellesley’s army of about 6,000 men, including the 19th Light Dragoons and 78th Highlanders, achieved a costly but crushing victory. After a pause to recover, Wellesley resumed his advance, sweeping the enemy aside at Argaum on 29th November. A month later, Daulat Rao and Ragoji Bhonsla sued for peace.
But the war was not yet over. In early 1804 Jeswunt Rao Holkar, a Mahratta leader who had hitherto remained aloof, suddenly entered the fray, pushing Lake’s forces back towards Agra before advancing on Delhi. A series of forced marches allowed Lake to recover the initiative and Holkar fled, closely pursued by British cavalry. In January 1805, Lake laid siege to Bhurtpore (an operation that ended in failure in April) but Holkar was no longer a major threat, eventually retreating into the Punjab. Peace was negotiated in January 1806, although it would take another war (1817-1819) before the Mahratta Confederacy was finally crushed.