Demetrius Charles de Kavanagh Boulger.

The life of Gordon, major-general, R. E. C. B.; Turkish field-marshal, Grand cordon Medjidieh, and pasha; Chinese titv (field-marshal) yellow jacket order online

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Online LibraryDemetrius Charles de Kavanagh BoulgerThe life of Gordon, major-general, R. E. C. B.; Turkish field-marshal, Grand cordon Medjidieh, and pasha; Chinese titv (field-marshal) yellow jacket order → online text (page 10 of 40)
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So The Life of Gordon.

Gordon was urged by his Chinese colleagues to signalise his assumption
of the command by carrying out this most desirable and necessary task.
The best means of approaching it was by the river, and on 31st March
Gordon accordingly sailed from Shanghai to the mouth of the Fushan
Creek. His force numbered about 1200 men, and included 200 artillery
with four i2-pounders and one 32-pounder. The enemy had constructed
some stockades at Fushan, outside the ruined city of that name, and
Gordon attacked these on the 4th April. He began with a heavy
bombardment, and when he ordered the advance the Taepings, dis-
heartened by his fire, evacuated their positions and retired with very
little loss to either side. Gordon then marched on Chanzu, ten miles
south of Fushan, and reached it without further fighting. The relief of
Chanzu being thus effected, Gordon hastened back to Sungkiang, where
he arrived little more than a week after he left it. The success and
swiftness of this movement greatly impressed Li Hung Chang, who
publicly recorded his great satisfaction at the very different manner in
which the new commander transacted business from Burgevine.

In a letter to the British Consul at Shanghai, Mr Markham, Li
wrote : —

"The officer Gordon having received command of the Ever
Victorious Army, having immediately on doing so proceeded to Fushan,
working day and night, having worked harmoniously with the other
generals there, having exerted himself and attacked with success the
walled city of Fushan and relieved Chanzu, and at once returned to
Sungkiang and organised his force for further operations to sweep out
the rebels, having proved himself valiant, able, and honest, I have
congratulated myself and memorialised his Lnperial Majesty to confer
on him the dignity and office of Tsung-ping (Brigadier-General), to
enable me to consider him as part of my command. Again, since
Gordon has taken the command, he has exerted himself to organise
the force, and though he has had but one month he has got the force
into shape. As the pcoi)le and place are charmed with him, as he
has already given me returns of the organisation of the force, the
formation of each regiment, and the expenses ordinary and extra-
ordinary in the clearest manner, wishing to drill our troops and save
our money, it is evident that he fully comprehends the state of affairs."

On his return to Sungkiang, Major Gordon devoted himself to the
thorough reorganisation of his force. He began by abolishing the
system of rewards for the capture of towns, and he forbade plunder-
ing on pain of death. These were strong steps to take with a force
such as that he had under him, but he succeeded in making them
acceptable by increasing the pay of the men, and by substituting

The Ever Victoriotis Army. 8i

on his staff English officers — the services of a few being lent him by
the commanding officer at Shanghai — for the adventurers who had
followed Ward and Burgevine. The total strength of the force was
fixed at 4000 men, and his artillery consisted of four siege and two
field batteries. The men were paid regularly by a Chinese official
appointed by Li Hung Chang, and the cost to the Chinese Govern-
ment averaged ;^2o,ooo a month. At the same time, Gordon
collected a pontoon train and practised his men in all the work of
attacking fortified places before he ventured to assume the offensive.
He also organised a flotilla of small steamers and Chinese gunboats
capable of navigating the canals and creeks which traversed the
province of Kiangsu in all directions. Of these the principal was the
steamer Hyson — a paddle-wheel vessel drawing 3J feet of water, armed
with a 32-pounder in her bow, and a 12-pounder at her stern, and
possessing the faculty of moving over the bed of a creek on her
wheels — and it took a very active and prominent part in the subse-
quent operations.

The strategy on which Major Gordon at once decided, and from
which he never deviated, was to cut off the Taeping communications
with the sea and the river Yangtsekiang, whence they were able to
obtain supplies of ammunition and arms from little-scrupulous foreign
traders. The expulsion of the Taepings from the Shanghai district
and from Ningpo had done something towards the success of this
project, but they still held Hangchow and the line of the Yangtsekiang
to within ten miles of the entrance of the Woosung River on which
Shanghai stands. The loss of Fushan and Chanzu had made an indent
in this territory, and in order to complete this breach in the Taeping
position, Gordon had decided and made all his plans to attack Quinsan,
when he was compelled to defer it in consequence of the following

The rude repulse at Taitsan had been, it will be recollected, the
culminating misfortune of the force before Gordon's assumption of
the command, but a Chinese army under Li Hung Chang's brother,
San Tajin, continued to remain in the neighbourhood of the place.
The Taeping commander laid a trap for him, into which he fell in
what was, for a Chinese officer fully acquainted with the fact that
treachery formed part of the usages of war in China, a very credulous
manner. He expressed a desire to come over, presents and vows were
exchanged, and at a certain hour he was to surrender one of the gates.
The Imperial troops went to take possession, and were even admitted
within the walls, when they were suddenly attacked on both flanks by
the treacherous Taepings. Fifteen hundred of San Tajin's men were


82 The Life of Gordon.

killed or captured, and he himself was severely wounded. In conse-
quence of this reverse, the main Chinese army, under General Ching,
a brave but inexperienced officer, could not co-operate with Gordon
against Quinsan, and it was then decided that Gordon himself should
proceed against Taitsan, and read the triumphant foe at that place a
lesson It was computed that its garrison numbered 10,000 men,
and that it had several European deserters and renegades among its
leaders, while the total force under Gordon did not exceed 3000
men. Their recent successes had also inspired the Taepings with
'confidence, and, judging by the previous encounters, there seemed
little reason to anticipate a satisfactory, or at least a speedy issue of
the affair for the Imperialists. That the result was more favourable
was entirely due to Gordon's military capacity and genius.

Major Gordon acted with remarkable and characteristic prompti-
tude. He only heard of the catastrophe to San Tajin on 27th April;
on 29th April, after two forced marches across country, he appeared
before Taitsan, and captured a stockade in front of one of its gates.
Bad weather prevented operations the next day, but on istMay, Gordon
having satisfied himself by personal examination that the western gate
offered the best point of attack, began the bombardment soon after
daybreak. Two stone stockades in front of the gate had first to be
carried, and these, after twenty minutes' firing, were evacuated on
part of Gordon's force threatening the retreat of their garrison back to
the town. The capture of these stockades began and ended the
operatioi\s on that day. The next morning Gordon stationed one
regiment in front of the north gate to cut off the retreat of the garrison
in that direction, and then resumed his main attack on the west gate.
By this time he had been joined by some of his gunboats, and their
fire, aided by the artillery he had with him, gradually made a good
impression on the wall, especially after the guns had been drawn as
near as 200 yards to it. The breach was then deemed sufficiently
practicable ; the gunboats went up the creek as near the walls as
possible, and the two regiments advanced to the assault. The
Taepings fought desperately in the breach itself, and no progress was
made. It is probable that a reverse would have followed had not
the howitzers continued to throw shells over the wall, thus inflicting
heavy losses on the Taepings, who swarmed in their thousands behind.
At that critical moment Gordon directed another regiment to escalade
the wall at a point which the Taepings had left unguarded, and
the appearance of these fresh troops on their flank at once decided
the day, and induced the Taeping leaders to order a retreat. The
Taepings lost heavily, but the loss of the Ever Victorious Army was in

The Ever Victorious Army. 83

proportion equally great. The latter had twenty men killed and 142
wounded, one European officer killed and six wounded. But the
capture of Taitsan under all the circumstances was an exceptionally
brilliant and decisive affair. With it may be said to have begun the
military reputation of the young commander, whose admirable dis-
positions had retrieved a great disaster and inflicted a rude blow on
the confidence of a daring enemy.

From Taitsan he marched to Quinsan ; but his force was not yet
thoroughly in hand, and wished to return to Sungkiang, in accordance
with their practice under Ward of spending their pay and prize-money
after any successful affair before attempting another. Gordon yielded
on this occasion the more easily because he was impressed by the
strength of Quinsan, and also because his ammunition had run
short. But his trouble with his men was not yet over, and he had
to face a serious mutiny on the part of his officers. For improved
economy and efficiency Gordon appointed an English commissariat
officer, named Cookesley, to control all the stores, and he gave him the
rank of lieutenant-colonel. This gave umbrage to the majors in
command of regiments, who presented a request that they should be
allowed the higher rank and pay of lieutenant-colonel ; and when this
was refused they sent in their resignations, which were accepted. 1 he
affair, was nearly taking a serious turn, as the troops refused to march ;
but Gordon's firmness overcame the difficulty. Two of the majors
were reinstated, and the others dismissed, but this incident finally
decided Gordon to change his headquarters from Sungkiang to some
place where the bad traditions of Ward and Burgevine were not in
force. The active operations now undertaken against Quinsan served
to distract the attention of the men, and to strengthen their commander's
influence over them. General Gordon's own description of this affair
is well worth quoting : —

"The force arrived at their old camping ground near the east gate
of Quinsan on the evening of 27th of May. General Ching had
established some five or six very strong stockades at this place, and,
thanks to the steamer ffysoti, had been able to hold them against the
repeated attacks of the rebels. The line of rebel stockades was not
more than 800 yards from his position. The force encamped near the
stockades ; and at daybreak of the 28th the 4th and 5th Regiments,
with the field artillery, moved to attack them. The right stockade was
attacked in front, and its right flank turned, on seeing which the rebels
retreated. They were in large force, and had it not been for the
numerous bridges they had constructed in their rear, they would have
suffered much, as the pursuit was pressed beyond the north gate close

84 The Life of Gordon.

up to a stockade they held at the nurth-east angle of the city. Captain
Clayton, 99th Regiment, a very gallant officer who had gained the
goodwill and admiration of every one of the force, was unfortunately
wounded in the attack, and died some months afterwards of his wounds.
Our loss was two killed and sixteen wounded.

" General Ching was now most anxious to get me to attack the east
gate on the following day. His object was that he had written to the
Futai Li, who had in turn passed the statement on to Peking, to say that
he had his stockades on the edge of the ditch, and merely wanted a
boat to get into the city. This he showed by a plan. The east gate
looked, if possible, more unpromising than it did before, and I declined
to attack it without reconnoitring the other side of the city. Accordingly,
the next day, 29th May, I went in the Hyson with General Ching and
Li Hung Chang to reconnoitre the west side, and after three hours'
steaming came within 1000 yards of the main canal, which runs from
the west gate of Quinsan to Soochow. At the junction of the creek we
came up with this main canal at the village of Chunye. This place is
eight miles from Quinsan, and twelve from Soochow. The only road
between these two places runs along the bank of the creek. The
rebels had here on its bank two stockades of no great strength, and
about 500 yards inland, they had, near the village of Chunye, a very
strong stone fort. About 1000 yards from the stockades the creek
was staked across. At the time of our arrival large numbers of troops
were passing towards and from Soochow with horsemen, etc. We
opened fire on them and on their boats. The rebels seemed perfectly
amazed at seeing us, and were ready for a run. General Ching was as
sulky as a bear when he was informed that I thought it advisable to
take these stockades the next day, and to attack on this side of the

"At dawn on 30th May the 4th Regiment, 350 strong, with field
artillery, all in boats and Hyson, accompanied by some fifty Imperial
gunboats, started for Chunye. The Imperial gunboats started some
hours previous, but had contented themselves with halting one and a
half miles from the stockades. The whole flotilla — some eighty boats,
with their large while sails and decorated with the usual amount of
various-coloured flags, with the Hyson in the middle — presented a very
picturesque sight, and must have made the garrison of Quinsan feel
uncomfortable, as they could see the smallest move from the high hill
inside the city, and knew, of course, more than we did of the
importance of the stockades about to be attacked.

" At noon we came up to the stakes before alluded to, and landed
the infantry. The Imperial gunboats, now very brave, pulled up the

The Ever Victorious Army. 85

stakes, and a general advance with the steamer and troops was made.
The rebels stood for a minute, and then vacated the stockades and ran.
The reason of the rebels defending these stockades so badly was on
account of the ill-feeling between the chiefs in charge of Quinsan and
Chunye, and the neglect of the former to furnish rice to the latter.

" The Hyson [with Gordon on board] now steamed up towards Soo-
chow at a slow pace, owing to the innumerable boats that crowded the
creek, which, vacated by their owners, were drifting about with their sails
up in every direction. The rebels were in clusters along the bank,
marching in an orderly way towards Soochow. The Hyson opened fire
on them and hurried their progress, and, hanging on their rear, kept up a
steady fire till they reached Ta Edin, where a large arch bridge spanned the
creek, and where the rebels had constructed a splendid stone fort. We
expected that the rebels would make a stand here, but they merely fired
one shot, which was answered by a shell from the Hyson, which went
into the embrasure, and the rebels continued their flight. It became
rather hazardous to pass this fort and leave it unoccupied, with the
number of armed rebels who were between Chunye and Ta Edin. The
Hyson, moreover, had no force on board of any importance. There
were with me five or six Europeans and some thirty Chinamen —
gunners, etc. However, six of us landed, and held the fort somehow
till more Imperialists came up, while the Hyson pushed on towards

" The Hyson continued the pursuit, threading her way through the
boats of all descriptions which crowded the creek, and harassing the rear
of the rebel columns which extended along the road for over a mile.
About two miles from Ta Edin another 'stone fort was passed without a
shot being fired ; this was Siaon Edin. Everything was left in the forts
by the rebels. Soon after passing this place the steamer headed some
400 rebels, and Captain Davidson ran her into the bank, and took 150
of them prisoners on board the Hyson — rather a risk, considering the
crew of that vessel and her size. Soon after this four horsemen were
descried riding at full speed about a mile in rear of the steamer. They
came up, passed the steamer amid a storm of bullets, and joined the
rebel column. One of them was struck off his horse, but the others
coolly waited for him, and one of them stopped and took him up behind
him. They deserved to get off. About three miles further on another
stockade of stone was passed at a broken bridge called Waiquaidong,
and the pursuit was carried on to about three-quarters of a mile from
Soochow. It was now getting late (6 p.m.), and we did not know if the
rebels in our rear might not have occupied the stockades, in which case
we should have had to find another route back. On our return we met

86 The Life of Gordon.

crowds of villagers, who burnt at our suggestion the houses in the forts
at Waiquaidong and Siaon Edin, and took the boats that were in the

"We met many boats that had appeared deserted on our passing up
saihng merrily towards Soochow, but which, when they saw the red and
green of the steamer and heard her whistle, were immediately run into
the bank and were deserted. Just before Siaon Edin was reached we
came on a large body of rebels, who opened a sharp fire of rifles on us
striking the gun twice. They had got under cover of a bridge, which,
however, after a short delay, we managed to enfilade with a charge of
grape and thus cleared them out. We then steamed into the bank and
took in more prisoners. Four chiefs, one a Wang, galloped past on
horseback ; and although not two yards from the steamer, they got away.
The Wang got shoved into the water and lost his pony. A party of rebels
were encamped in Siaon Edin, not dreaming of any further annoyance
for that night, and were accordingly astonished to hear the steamier's
whistle, and rushed out in amazement, to meet a shell at the entrance,
which killed two of them. The steamer now pushed on to Ta Edin,
and found it unoccupied ; while waiting there to collect some of the
prisoners, about 200 rebels came so suddenly on the steamer that we
were obliged to whistle to keep them off till the gun could be got ready.

"It was now 10.30 p.m., and the night was not very clear. At this
moment the most tremendous firing and cheering was heard from
Chunye, and hurried our progress to that place. Just before we reached
it a gunboat disarranged the rudder, and then we were dodging about from
side to side for some ten minutes, the firing and cheering going on as
before. At last we got up to the junction of the creek, and steaming
through the Imperial, and other boats, we came on the scene of action.
The gunboats were drawn up in line, and were firing as fast as they
could. The stone fort at the village was sparkling with musketry, and
at times astounding yells burst forth from it. The Hyson blew her
whistle, and was received with deafening cheers from the gunboats, which
were on the eve of bolting. She steamed up the creek towards Quinsan,
and at the distance of 200 yards we saw a confused mass near a
high bridge. It was too dark to distinguish very clearly, but on the
steamer blowing the whistle the mass wavered, yelled, and turned back.
It was the garrison ot Quinsan attempting to escape to Soochow, some
seven or eight thousand men.

" Matters were in too critical a state to hesitate, as the mass of the
rebels, goaded into desperation, would have swept our small force away. We
were therefore forced to fire into them, and pursue them towards Quin-
san, firing, however, very rarely, and only when the rebels looked as if

The Ever Victorious Army. 87

they would make a stand. The steamer went up to about a mile from
Quinsan, and then returned. Several ofificers landed and took charge
ot the prisoners who were extended along the bank, and at 4 a.m., 31st
May, everything was quiet. The Byson had fired some eighty or ninety
rounds during the day and night ; and although humanity might have
desired a smaller destruction, it was indispensably necessary to inflict
such a blow on the garrison of Soochow as would cause them not to
risk another such engagement, and thus enable us to live in peace dur-
ing the summer — which it indeed did, for the rebels never came on this
road again. Their loss must have been from three to four thousand
killed, drowned, and prisoners. We took 800, most of whom entered
our ranks. They lost all their arms and a very large number of boats.
At 5 A.M. on 31st May the troops at Chunye and the Hyson moved
towards Quinsan, and found the remainder of the force who had been
left at the east gate already in the city. The possession of Quinsan was
of immense importance in a strategical point of view. The circum-
ference of its walls is some five miles, but they are very inferior. Its
ditch is over forty yards wide, and from the nature of the creeks around
it would prove very difficult to take. The high hill enclosed within its
walls would enable the slightest move to be seen, and if two or three
guns were placed on the spurs of this hill it would form a very formid-
able citadel. The rebels did not know its importance till they lost it."

Such was the capture of Quinsan, told in the simple words of its
captor. It confirmed the reputation gained by the fall of Taitsan, and
proved that the new commander was a man of extraordinary military
intuition as well as energy. There is scarcely room to doubt that if
Gordon had attacked Quinsan where the Chinese commander wished
him to do, at its very strongest point, he would have met with a rude
repulse. By attacking them on the side of Soochow, and by threaten-
ing their communication with that place, he terrified the large garrison so
much that in the end they evacuated the place without resistance.
Gordon himself believed that if the mandarins at the head of the
Imperial army would have consented to support him in immediate
measures for an assault on Soochow, that city would have fallen in
the panic that ensued after the loss of Quinsan. The opportunity
being lost, it will be seen that many months of arduous fighting followed
before the same result was achieved.

The reasons which rendered a change in the headquarters of the
force desirable have already been mentioned, and Major Gordon at
once decided to remove them to Quinsan, a strong and advantageously-
placed position embarrassing to the Taepings, and equally encouraging
to the Imperialists. But if this removal was necessary on grounds of

S8 The Life of Gordon.

discipline and policy, it was very unpopular with the men themselves,
who were attached to Sungkiang, where they could easily dispose of
their plunder. They determined to make an effort to get the offensive
order withdrawn, and a proclamation was drawn up by the most
disaffected, who were the non-commissioned officers, and sent to Major
Gordon with an intimation that the artillery would blow all the officers
to pieces unless their demands were complied with. Major Gordon
at once sent for all the non-commissioned officers, who paraded before
him. When he demanded the name of the writer of the proclamation
they were silent. At this Major Gordon announced that unless the
name was given up, he would shoot one out of every five of them.
At this statement the men groaned, when Gordon, noticing the man
who groaned loudest, and shrewdly conceiving him to be a ring-
leader, seized him with his own hands, dragged him from the ranks,
and ordered two of his bodyguard to shoot tlie man on the spot.
The order was at once carried out, and then Gordon, turning to the
rest, gave them one hour to reflect whether they would obey orders,
or compel him to shoot one in every five. Within this time they gave
way, and discipline was restored. Gordon in his official despatch
expressed regret for the man's death, but, as he truly said, "it saved
many others which must have been lost if a stop had not been put
to the independent way of the men." But the matter did not quite
end here, for more than 2000 men deserted, but Gordon found no
difficulty in filling their places from his prisoners and the villages round
Quinsan. It is worthy of note that his own bodyguard was mainly
composed of Taeping prisoners, and some of the most faithful of
them had been the bearers of the Snake banners of the rebel

Having thus settled the differences within his own force, and
having fully established his own authority, INIajor Gordon would have
prosecuted the attack on Soochow with vigour, if other difficulties had
not occurred which occupied his time and attention. In the first

Online LibraryDemetrius Charles de Kavanagh BoulgerThe life of Gordon, major-general, R. E. C. B.; Turkish field-marshal, Grand cordon Medjidieh, and pasha; Chinese titv (field-marshal) yellow jacket order → online text (page 10 of 40)