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

. (page 11 of 40)
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 11 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

place, there was a serious quarrel with General Ching, who was sore
because he had not gained the credit for the capture of Quinsan, and
who did everything he could to hamper and humiliate the force. At
last he went to the length of firing on a column of Gordon's force, and
as he refused all satisfaction, that officer was on the point of marching
to attack him, when Dr — now Sir Malliday— Macartney arrived in his
camp, being sent in a fully accredited manner, and escorted by the
Futai's bodyguard, as a peace messenger from Li Hung Chang. On
this occasion Sir Halliday Macartney first gave evidence of the excep-
tional di[)lomatic tact which he has since evinced in so many important

The Ever Victorious Army. 89

negotiations, when China derived much advantage from his energy,
abihty, and devotion to her cause. The storm then blew over, but
the second affair was more serious. Li Hung Chang became remiss
in his payment of the force, and on 25th July Gordon sent in his
formal resignation. There is every reason to believe that at this moment
Gordon was thoroughly sick of his command, and would wiUingly have
returned to Europe. The difificulties with his own men, the want of
co-operation, to say nothing of appreciation on the part of the Chinese
authorities, had damped even his zeal in what he reiterated was the
good cause of restoring peace and security to a suffering people ;
and in addition to these troubles he had to carry on a correspondence
with anonymous writers, who made many baseless charges in the
Shanghai and Hongkong papers of cruelty against the men under
his command. The English General at Shanghai used all his influence,
however, with the Chinese Governor to pay up the arrears, and with
Gordon to retain the command, because, as he said, there was "no
other officer who combined so many dashing qualities, let alone skill
and judgment."

But the event that really decided Gordon to withdraw his resignation
was the unexpected return of Burgevine. That adventurer had pro-
ceeded to Peking after his dismissal from the command, and obtained
some support from the American minister in pressing his claims on
the Chinese. He had been sent back to Shanghai with letters which,
although they left some loophole of escape, might be interpreted as
ordering Li Hung Chang to reinstate him in the command. This
Li, supported by the English commanding officer at Shanghai, had
resolutely refused to do, and the feud between the men became more
bitter than ever. Burgevine remained in Shanghai and employed his
time in selling the Taepings arms and ammunition. In this way he
estabhshed secret relations with their chiefs, and seeing no chance of
Imperial employment he was not unwilling to join his fortunes to
theirs. This inclination was increased by the belief that he might
be able to form a force of his own which would give a decisive turn
to the struggle, and his vanity led him to think that he might pose
on the rebel side as no unequal adversary of Gordon, to whom all
the time he professed the greatest friendship. These feelings arose
from or were certainly strengthened by the representations made by
several of the officers and men whom Gordon had dismissed from his
army. They easily led Burgevine to think that he was not forgotten,
and that he had only to raise his standard to be joined by many of
his old men.

A fortnight before Gordon's resignation Dr Macartney — who had

90 The Life of Gordon.

some time before beoiun his remarkable career in the Chinese service,
and of whom Gordon himself said : " He drilled troops, supervised the
manufacture of shells, gave advice, brightened the Futai's intellect about
foreigners, and made peace, in which last accomphshment his forte lay"
— wrote to him, stating that he had positive information that Burgevine
was enlisting men for some enterprise, that he had already enrolled
300, and that he had even chosen a special flag for his force. A
few days later Burgevine, probably hearing of this communication,
wrote to Gordon, begging him not to believe any rumours about him,
and stating that he was coming up to see him. Gordon unfortunately
believed in this statement, and as he wished to exhibit special lenience
towards the man whom he had displaced in the command, he went
bail for him, so that he retained his personal liberty when the Chinese
arrested Burgevine's agent Beechy, and wished to arrest Burgevine
himself. On 2nd August Burgevine threw off the mask. At the head
of a band of thirty-two rowdies, he seized the new steamer Kajow at
Sungkiang, and wnth that vessel hastened to join the Taepings. The
very day that this happened Gordon reached Shanghai for the purpose
of resigning his command, but on the receipt of this intelligence he
at once withdrew his resignation and hastened back to Quinsan. Apart
from public considerations, he felt doubly bound to do this because
Burgevine had not been arrested on his pledged word.

The position was undoubtedly critical, for the prospect of plunder
offered by Burgevine was very attractive to mercenaries like the Ever
Victorious Army, and there was a very real risk that the force at
Quinsan, deprived of its commander, might be induced to desert eii
massc under the persuasive promises of Burgevine. When Gordon
reached Quinsan he was so apprehensive as to what might occur
that he removed his heavy artillery and most of his munitions
of war to Taitsan, where General Brown, in command at Shanghai,
undertook to see that they w-ere protected. The situation at Quinsan
was full of peril, for although Burgevine had thrown away a chance, by
taking a roundabout instead of a direct route to Soochow, of striking
a decisive blow before Gordon could get back, the Taeping leader,
Mow Wang, had not been so negligent, and his operations for the
recovery of several places taken by Gordon in the last few days of
his command were on the point of success, when that officer's return
arrested the course of his plans. It must be pointed out that
after this date the Taepings fought with far more skill than before.
They had a very considerable European contingent, probably nearly
300 men, and these served not only as leaders, but as trainers of the
rebel Chinese forces. They had also obtained some good cannon,

The Ever Victorious Army. 91

and the steamer Kajoto proved of material value on water. Gordon
found on his return, therefore, that the difficulties of the campaign were
materially increased. His opponents were far stronger and more
confident, while his own resources remained unchanged. Gordon
tersely summed up the situation in an official despatch: "There is no
knowing what an immense amount of damage might have been done if
the rebels had had a more energetic man than Burgevine, and it would
be as well not to point out the line which might have been taken."

The first engagements of this more difficult and keenly-contested
phase of the campaign took place at Kahpoo, a place on the canal
some miles south of Soochow. Gordon had taken it a week before
he left for Shanghai, as a sort of parting gift to the Chinese, but when
he arrived there on 9th August he found the garrison hard pressed,
although the Hyson was stationed there — and indeed nothing but his
arrival with a third steamer, the Cricket, averted its recapture. After
five days' operations, that do not require description, the neighbour-
hood of Kahpoo was cleared of rebels, and Gordon returned to
Quinsan, where the most essential task had to be accomplished of
restoring the discipline of his own force. As some assistance in
this difficult task General Brown lent him the services of 200 Bel-
uches, whose admirable conduct and splendid appearance went far
to restore a healthy spirit among his own men. At the same time
these troops ensured the safety of Quinsan and also of Gordon him-
self, at least against the treachery of Burgevine's sympathisers.

The season of the year, the hottest and most trying of the long
Chinese summer, compelled inaction, and Gordon felt doubly the
need of caution now that he was brought face to face with the most
arduous undertaking of the whole war, viz. the siege and capture of
Soochow. General Ching's headquarters were at Ta Edin, and he had
also occupied in force Waiquaidong, only two miles from the eastern
gate of Soochow. Before the end of September he had pushed on
still further, and erected his stockades within half a mile of that position.
At this moment Gordon, anxious as to what might happen to his too-
adventurous colleague, advanced with his force to his aid, and took up
the supreme direction of the attack on Soochow. As usual, Gordon
began by making a careful examination of the extensive rebel positions
at and round Soochow, and the result of it was that he decided to
capture the stockades and village of Patachiaou, one mile distant from
the south wall of that city. His plan met with easy success, for the
Taepings were not expecting an attack in that quarter, and offered
little resistance.

Easily as they had been driven out of it, the Taepings made a very

92 The Life of Gordon.

determined effort to retake it a few days later, and it was only by
desperate exertions that Gordon succeeded in holding what he had
won. This was the first occasion on which Burgevine and the Kajow
steamer, commanded by Captain Jones, " a daring and capable officer,"
to use Gordon's words, came into action. The rebels were extremely
confident for this reason, and also because they had some heavy
artillery. Gordon had to keep to his stockades, and to send the Hyson
out of action from fear of its being damaged by the enemy's shell, but
the Taepings were afraid to come to close quarters, and eventually
retreated before a well-timed sortie. In this engagement Gordon had
the co-operation of a French-trained Chinese regiment, under the
command of a gallant officer. Captain Eonnefoy. After this there was
a lull, but Gordon felt too weak to attempt anything serious against
Soochow, and he deprecated all operations until he could strike an
effective blow. In this respect he differed materially from his Chinese
colleague. General Ching, who was most restless and enterprising, but
his ill-directed energy produced no result, and even assisted the enemy's

At this juncture the Taepiug hero Chung Wang arrived from Nan-
king with reinforcements, and imparted a new vigour to the defence.
But whether on account of jealousy, or of disappointment at the poor
services he had rendered, it also resulted in the dismissal of Burgevine,
an incident of which some brief account may be given before following
the main course of the campaign. More than one ground of dispute led
up to this conclusion. In the first place, Burgevine was disappointed at
finding several of the rebel Wangs as clever and ambitious as he was,
and they were disappointed at the amount of service and help he could
give them. This feeling culminated in angry scenes, when, on being sent
into Shanghai in disguise to purchase arms with a large sum of money,
he returned to Soochow without either money or weapons. He was
apparently given, as a last chance, the opportunity of regaining his
reputation by entrapping Gordon into the rebel jjower, and he thoroughly
entered into the scheme, although he failed to carry it out. On 3rd
October — that is to say, two days after the failure to retake Patachiaou
— Burgevine made the first step in this plot by addressing a letter to
Gordon, thanking him for the offer of medicines he had sent, and offer-
ing to meet him whenever he liked to discuss matters. On the 6th he
met Gordon at the stockades, and declared his willingness to abandon
the Taepings and come over with all his force, including the Kajow.
He and his companions were guaranteed their lives, and the arrange-
ment seemed complete. Two days later he had a second interview
with the English officer, when he made the extraordinary proposition that

The Ever Vicloriotcs Army, 93

he and Gordon should join bands, attack both Taepings and Imper-
ialists, and fight for their own hand. This mad and unprincipled proposal
excited Gordon's anger, but it was only Burgevine's old filibustering idea
revived under unfavourable conditions. It was while smarting under
this rebuff that Burgevine proposed to Captain Jones a fresh plot for
entrapping Gordon, while he, unsuspecting evil, was engaged in con-
ferences for their surrender ; but to Jones's credit, let it be stated that he
refused to have any part in such black treachery. Thereupon Burgevine
attempted to take Jones's life, either to conceal his own treachery or to
enable him to carry out his interrupted plans. Much delay occurred in
carrying out the project of Burgevine's desertion, and Gordon, rendered
specially anxious to save his and the other foreigners' lives, because one
party had escaped without Burgevine, wrote a strong letter on the
subject to Mow Wang, Chung Wang's chief lieutenant. He also sent
him a present of a pony, at which the rebel chief was so much pleased
that he agreed to release Burgevine, and on iSth October that person
appeared at the outworks of Gordon's position. His personal safety
was entirely due to Gordon's humane efforts, and to the impression that
officer had made on the Taepings as a chivalrous opponent. The
American Consul at Shanghai, Mr Seward, officially thanked Major
Gordon for his " great kindness to misguided General Burgevine and
his men." Nearly two years later this adventurer met the fate he
so narrowly escaped on several occasions. He had been forbidden by
his own Consul as well as the Chinese Government ever to return to
China, but in June 1865 he broke his parole. Before he could be
arrested he met with his death by accident, being drowned when cross-
ing a Chinese river, but rumours were prevalent that his death was an
act of vengeance instigated by his old enemy the Futai, Li Hung

The assumption of the supreme command by Chung Wang was
soon followed by those offensive operations which had made that dash-
ing leader the most famous of all the rebel generals. Gordon and the
bulk of his corps were at Patachiaou, south of Soochow — only General
Ching and the Chinese army were north of that place — and he resolved
to attack them and force his way through to Chanzu, which he wished
to recover as opening a road to the river and the outer world. Gordon
divined his intention, and for some time prevented him carrying it out
by making threatening demonstrations with his gunboats on the western
side of Soochow ; but his own attention was soon diverted to another
part of the country where a new and unexpected danger threatened his
own position and communications. A large rebel force, computed to
number 20,000 men, had suddenly appeared behind Major Gordon's

94 The Life of Goi'don.

position and attacked the Imperial garrison stationed at Wokong, a place
on the canal twelve or thirteen miles south of Soochow. The news
that reached Gordon on 12th October from this quarter was that the
garrison, having been repulsed in a sortie with a loss of several hundred
men, could not hold out many hours. Gordon at once hastened to the
rescue at the head of one of his regiments, and with the invaluable
Hyson steamer. He found his allies quite cowed, afraid even to open
the gates of their stockades to admit him and his men, and the enemy
drawn up in imposing lines at a distance of about 1500 yards. He at
once ordered the attack, and during three hours the engagement was
contested in the most obstinate and spirited manner. The rebels, having
their line of retreat secure, fought bravely. Gordon had to bring up his
heavy guns to within forty j'ards of the wall before they would gave way,
and even then they stood at the second and third inner stockades.
Gordon never gave them a chance of recovering, but having got them on
the run, kept them at it for a distance of ten miles. This was one of
Gordon's greatest victories in the open field. The Taepings never
fought better, yet with 1000 good Chinese troops Gordon routed more
than 20,000 of them.

Chung Wang had begun his march towards Chanzu, but after some
slight successes met with a rude repulse at Monding, where he also
lost the steamer Kajow, which was sunk by an accidental ex[)losion.
He then established his headquarters at Wusieh, a place on the Grand
Canal, about twenty-five miles north of Soochow. Here he hoped to
effect some diversion that might relieve the increasing pressure on
Soochow itself.

In the meantime that pressure had greatly increased, owing to the
bolder measures to which Gordon resorted after the European con-
tingent abandoned the Taeping side. His first step was to attack and
capture the stockades at Wuliungchow, a village two miles west of
Patachiaou, which commanded a passage leading from the Taiho Lake
to the south gate of Soochow. Gordon managed to conceal the real
object of his attack from the Taepings, and to capture the stockades
with little loss. The wet weather and the unexpected nature of the
attack explained this easy success, for the stockades were strong and
well placed. Chung Wang returned from Wusieh with the special
object of retaking them, but he was repulsed with some loss, and then
hurried l-)ack to that place. A few days later part of Gordon's force,
under Major Kirkham, was sent to AVokong, which was again being
threatened by the Taepings, and obtained a brilliant success, capturing
1300 prisoners and not fewer than 1600 boats, including sixteen

The Eve^" Victorious Army. 95

Having achieved this success on the south, Gordon proceeded with
his plans to secure an equally advantageous position on the north side.
He left two regiments at Wuliungchow, which he greatly strengthened,
and with the remainder he went to Waiquaidong, where he proposed to
deliver his attack on the Leeku stockades, only a short distance in
front of the north gate of Soochow. This operation was carried out
with complete success, and it was promptly followed up by the capture
of the rebel positions at Wanti, which enabled the forces round
Soochow to join hands with the other considerable Imperial army that
had been placed in the field by the energy of Li Hung Chang, and
entrusted to the command of his brother, San Tajin. This last force
was opposed to Chung Wang, but although numerically the stronger,
the want of the most rudimentary military knowledge in its commander
reduced this army of 20,000 men to inglorious inaction. At this stage
of the struggle it will be well to sum up in Gordon's own words the
different positions held by the contending forces : —

" We held the Taiho Lake with the steamers the Hyson, the Tsatlee,
Firefly, and 200 men (Imperialists), which cruised off Moodow, and
prevented supplies coming to Soochow up the creek which leads from
that village to the small West Gate, or Shih-miin, of Soochow, and where
they had many actions with the rebel gunboats. The next great water
outlet was closed to the rebels by our possession with 1000 men
(Imperialists) of Wuliungchow. Off the Pon-miin, or South Gate, the
next main water and road communication to the south was closed
to them by our occupation by 1500 men (Imperialists) of the Patachiaou
stockades on the Grand Canal, south of the south-east angle of Soochow.
The next, which led from the east gate of Soochow to Quinsan, was
closed by Ching's force of 3000 or 4000 men, nearly two miles from
the gate. These men were well posted in strong and well-constructed
stockades. The next position held was Leeku, where I had one
regiment, and at Wanti there was another regiment. The total force
in the stockades was about 8500 men, leaving for freld operation 2500
Imperialists, 2100 of the Quinsan Corps, and 400 Franco-Chinese.
San Tajin had 20,000 to 30,000, in three separate camps. He was
utterly incapable for command of any sort.

"The rebels held Soochow with some 40,000 men in and around
the city. The city of Wusieh held some 20,000 men, and Chung Wang
had at Mahtanchow some iS,ooo more. Chung Wang's position was
central between Wusieh and Soochow, some ten miles in advance of
the Grand Canal, so as to be able to give help to either city, and to
attack on the flank any advance made by us on their grand line of
communications by that canal."

96 The Life of Gordon.

The city of Soochow, now so closely beleaguered, was of imposing
appearance. An English traveller who saw it at this time thus
describes it : —

"Further than the eye could penetrate in the misty morning
stretched the grizzled walls of Soochow, a city celebrated for ages in the
history of China for its size, population, wealth, and luxury, but now
stripped of its magnificence, and held by an army of Taeping banditti
against the Imperial forces. To the right and left, mile after mile, rose
the line of lofty wall and grey turret, while above all appeared not only
the graceful pagodas, which have been for ages the boast of Soochow
and the dense foliage of secular trees — the invariable glory of Chinese
cities — but also the shimmering roofs of newly decorated palaces
confidently occupied by the vainglorious leaders of the rebellion.
The proximity of the rebel line became apparent with surprising
suddenness, for, following their usual custom, they greeted the rising
sun with a simultaneous display of gaudy banners above the line
of their entrenchments. The mud walls they had thrown up
in advance, scarcely distinguishable before, were now marked out
by thousands of flags of every colour from black to crimson, whilst
behind them rose the jangling roll of gongs, and the murmurs of an
invisible multitude."

Had Gordon been free to act, or even if he had possessed authority
over the two Chinese commanders, his plan of campaign would have
been simple and decisive. He would have effected a junction of his
forces with San Taj in ; and having overwhelmed Chung Wang and his
18,000 men with his combined army of double that strength, he would
have appeared at the head of his victorious troops before the bewildered
garrison of Wusieh. He would probably have thus terminated the
campaign at a stroke. Even the decisive defeat of Chung Wang alone
might have entailed the collapse of the cause now tottering to its fall.
But Major Gordon had to consider not merely the military quality of
Ills allies, but also their jealousies and differences. General Ching hated
S an Tajin on private as well as on public grounds. He desired a monopoly
of the profit and honour of the campaign. His own reputation would
be made by the capture of Soochow. It would be diminished and cast
into the shade were another Imperial commander to defeat Chung
Wang and close the line of the Grand Canal. If Gordon detached
himself from General Ching, he could not feel sure what folly that
jealous and impulsive commander might not commit. He would
certainly not pursue the vigilant defence before Soochow necessary to
guard the extensive line of stockades, and to prevent its large garrison
sallying out and assailing his own rear. Gordon had consequently for

The Evei"" Victoriotis Army. 97

these considerations to abandon the tempting idea of crushing Chung
Wang and capturing the towns in the rear of Nanking, and to have
recourse to safer if slower methods.

But if he had to abandon the larger plan, he still stuck tenaciously
to his main idea that the way to capture Soochow was to isolate it, and
above all to sever Chung Wang's communication with it. Several weeks
passed before Gordon could complete the necessary arrangements, but
at last, on 19th November, he left Leeku at the head of the greater part
of his own force and a large contingent of Ching's braves to attack the
stockades at Fusaiquan on the Grand Canal, about four miles north
of Leeku. The Taeping position was a strong one, including eight
separate earthworks, a stone fort, and several stockades. Gordon said
" it was far the best built and strongest position he had yet seen," but
the rebels evacuated it in the most cowardly manner without attempting
the least resistance. Gordon goes on to say : " Our loss was none
killed, and none wounded ! We had expected a most desperate defence.
If ever men deserved beheading, the Taeping leaders did on this occa-
sion." The immediate consequence of this success was that Chung
Wang quitted his camp in face of San Tajin, and, joining the Wusieh
corps, concentrated his whole force for the defence of the Grand Canal.

Having thus strengthened his position towards the north, Gordon,
very much to Ching's satisfaction, fell in with his views to begin a direct

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 11 of 40)