Within the confines of the fictional Sharpe novel's, the Battle of Assaye made Arthur Wellesley famous, and made Richard Sharpe's career. It was there he earned a field promotion from Sergeant to Ensign by defending General Wellesley from death or capture by Maratha soldiers and mercenaries.
From August 1803, Wellesley's army and a separate force under the command of his subordinate Colonel James Stevenson had been pursuing the Maratha cavalry-based army which threatened to raid south into Hyderabad. After several weeks of pursuit and countermarching, Scindia reinforced the combined Maratha army with his Europeanised infantry and artillery as the British forces closed in on his position. Wellesley received intelligence indicating the location of the Maratha encampment on 21 September and devised a plan whereby his two armies would converge on the Maratha position three days later. Wellesley's force, however, encountered the Maratha army – which was under the command of Colonel Anthony Pohlmann – 6 miles (9.7 km) farther south than he anticipated. Although outnumbered, Wellesley resolved to attack at once, believing that the Maratha army would soon move off. Both sides suffered heavily in the ensuing battle; Maratha artillery caused large numbers of casualties among Wellesley's troops but the vast numbers of Maratha cavalry proved largely ineffective. A combination of bayonet and cavalry charges eventually forced the Maratha army to retreat with the loss of most of their guns, but Wellesley's army was too battered and exhausted to pursue.
Wellesley's victory at Assaye, preceded by the capture of Ahmednagar and followed by victories at Argaon and Gawilghur, resulted in the defeat of Scindia and Berar's armies in the Deccan. Wellesley's progress in the Deccan was matched by Lieutenant General Gerard Lake's successful campaigns in Northern India and led to the British becoming the dominant power in the heartlands of India.
Assaye was 34-year-old Wellesley's first major success and despite his anguish over the heavy losses, it was a battle he always held in the highest estimation. After his retirement from active military service, the Duke of Wellington (as he later became known) considered Assaye the finest thing he ever did in the way of fighting even when compared to his later military career.
Lord Mornington and his Council lauded the battle as a "most brilliant and important victory", and presented each of the Madras units and British regiments involved in the engagement with a set of honorary colours. The British regiments and native units were also awarded the Assaye battle honour and most were later given permission to adopt an Assaye elephant as part of their insignia.
A public monument was also erected by the East India Company at Fort William, Calcutta to commemorate the victory. The 74th Regiment of foot later became known as the Assaye regiment due to their stand at the battle.