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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attack on Soochow itself. For good reasons it was decided that the
north-east angle of Soochow was the weakest, but before it could be
attacked it was necessary to capture the strong stockades which the
rebels had erected in front of the East and North Gates. The East
Gate, or Low Mun, stockades were selected for the first attack, and as
the scene of a reverse to Ching's force on 14th October, the Chinese
commander was specially anxious to capture them. They were ex-
ceedingly formidable, consisting of a line of breastwork, defended at
intervals with circular stockades, and the position was well chosen and
strongly fortified. After reconnoitring it, and obtaining all the informa-
tion he could from deserters, Gordon determined on a night attack ;
but unfortunately not only were his plans revealed to the Taepings by
traitors in his own camp, but his arrangements miscarried. As is often
the case with night attacks, the plan of attack was not adhered to, and
much confusion followed. The breastwork was carried by a small part
of his troops, but the stockades in its rear were never reached. En-
couraged by Gordon's example, who seemed to be at every point at
the same moment, his men held on to the breastwork, but the supports
Avould not move up, and when he hastened to the rear to encourage
them, the Taepings under Mow Wang attacked in their turn and


9^ The Life of Gordon.

manned the breastwork. There was nothing now to be done but to draw
off the troops, which was executed with comparatively shght loss ; but
165 officers and men were killed or wounded — the majority being killed
or missing. This loss would have been much greater if the Taepings
had only had the courage to leave their position, but fortunately they
showed themselves unable to follow up their success. This was Gordon's
first defeat, but it was so obviously due to special causes that it did not
much dishearten his men, or diminish the high reputation he and his
force had gained by thirteen previous victories.

But the necessity to retrieve such a reverse was obvious, and Gordon
collected the whole of his corps for the purpose of capturing the Low
Mun stockades. He also placed his siege guns in position, and began
a heavy bombardment in the morning of 29th November as the
preliminary to attack. On his side, Mow Wang made all his prepara-
tions for defence, which had been rendered the more necessary because
there were dissensions among the Taeping leaders themselves, one of
whom, named Lar Wang, had offered to surrender with his followers to
General Ching on terms. Partly on this account Chung Wang rode
into Sooehow with a bodyguard of a few hundred men by -the only
bridle-path available, and his presence composed for the moment the
quarrels of the Taeping leaders. But the result depended on the
successful defence of the stockades in front of the East Gate, and
Gordon was equally intent on capturing them. After a short bombard-
ment the breastwork seemed so knocked about that Gordon ordered a
column to advance to the assault, but it was met by a tremendous fire
and compelled to turn back. Then the bombardment was renewed,
and the field-pieces were pushed forward as far as possible. A second
assault was then delivered, but the creek — fourteen yards across — was too
wide for the bridge, and things again looked black, when the officers
boldly jumped into the water, and their men following, the whole
position was captured at a rush. Once this success was gained, the
defence of the Taepings, who had fought well, collapsed, and stockade
after stockade was carried with little or no loss. Gordon himself, with
a mere handful of men, captured three more stockades and a stone fort
that he said could have held out after all the other positions had
fallen. The loss of the corps in this severe but decisive engagement
was heavy, amounting to 6 officers killed, and 3 wounded ; 50 men
killed, and 128 wounded, besides 5 Europeans of the Bodyguard. But
this assault was decisive, inasmuch as it was the last that had to be
made on the defences of Sooehow before the fall of that place.

At this point it will be appropriate to say something about Gordon's
relations with his own officers, many of whom contemplated, whenever

The Ever Victoriotis Army. 99

dissatisfied with their treatment or at prolonged inaction, selling their
cause and services to the Taepings. During the siege he discovered
that Captain Perry had written a letter giving the enemy information,
but Gordon agreed to look over the offence on the condition that Perry
led the next forlorn hope, which happened to be the affair at the
Leeku stockades. Gordon had forgotten the condition, but Perry
remembered it, and led the assault. He was shot in the mouth, and
fell into the arms of his commander, ever at the point of danger.
Perry was the first man killed, and Gordon's epitaph was that he w^as
" a very good officer." Although Gordon was a strict and even severe
disciplinarian, he was always solicitous of the interests of the officers
who worked under him, and he set apart the greater portion of his pay
in the Chinese service, which had been fixed at;^i,2oo a year, for their
benefit, more especially for the purchase of medicine and comforts
for the ill or wounded. There was no exaggeration at all in the state-
ment that he left China without any savings and as poor as when he
reached it.

From the gallant deeds of Gordon and his corps the course of the
siege passes to the intrigues and negotiations between General Ching
and Lar Wang. These had made so much progress that Lar Wang's
troops abandoned the formidable stockades in front of the North Gate,
which were occupied without the least attempt at resistance. Several
interviews took place with the Taeping leaders, and Gordon was
present at some of these, but Li Hung Chang asserts that he was not
present at the most important of them ; and that he was not a signatory
of the convention of surrender. He was strongly in favour of good
terms being granted to the rebels, and impressed his views on both Li
Hung Chang, who had come up to the camp to be present at the
fall of Soochow, and General Ching. From both he received the most
positive assurances that the lives of all the Wangs would be spared, and
such was no doubt their intention, but events were too strong for them.
The most interesting of these leaders, with, of course, the exception of
Chung Wang, was Mow Wang, who would have nothing to say to a
surrender, and wished to fight to the death. He was the man who
had sent back Burgevine, and Gordon admired his courage so much
that he resolved to spare no effort to save his life. He asked Li to
assign Mow Wang to him, and this request was granted. Unfortun-
ately all these efforts were thrown away, for on the 4th December,
during a banquet given at Mow Wang's palace, the other Wang?
had fallen upon and murdered that chief, who would have resisted
with all his force their projected surrender of the place. The ne.xt
day Lar Wang, who had taken an oath of brotherhood with General

lOO The Life of Gordon.

Ching, gave up one of the gates, and his numerous followers under-
took to shave their heads in token of surrender. The Imperialist
troops occupied the gate, and prepared to take possession of the city,
but Gordon would not allow any of his men to leave the stockades as
he foresaw the impossibility of preventing them from plundering if they
were permitted to advance into the city. But he went and represented
the case to Li Hung Chang, and demanded two months' pay for his men
as a reward for their good service, and as some compensation for the
loss of loot. Li replied that he could not grant the request, and
Gordon at once resigned for the second time during his connection
with the Chinese Government. There was serious risk of an outbreak
on the part of the discontented soldiers of the Ever Victorious Army,
but on General Ching providing one month's pay Gordon used his
influence with his men to march quietly back to Quinsan. The men
at first received this order with shouts of dissatisfaction, and even
threatened to attack the Futai Li, but Gordon succeeded in overcoming
their objections, and the worst that happened was a noisy demonstration
as the troops passed Li Hung Chang's tent, where Gordon and another
officer stood on guard.

The Chinese officials were delighted to thus get rid of the Ever
Victorious Army, without which they would never have seen the inside
of Soochow. Its presence diminished their credit and interfered with
the execution of the plans which they had no doubt held throughout all
the negotiations with Lar Wang. Neither Li nor Ching wished Lar
Wang and his colleagues to be saved, and thus allowed to become rivals
to themselves in the race of official honour and wealth. There was
nothing surprising in this, and the only matter for astonishment is that
Lar Wang, well acquainted with the Punic faith of his countrymen, and
with such a black record from the Government point of view, should have
so easily placed faith in the word of his enemies. This was the more
extraordinary because Gordon himself went into the city and saw Lar
Wang at his own house before he left for Li Hung Chang's quarters,
where a banquet had been arranged, and asked him very pressingly
whether he was quite satisfied. Gordon himself seems to have had
suspicions or apprehensions, for he even offered to take him on board
his own steamer with which he was going to cruise in the Taiho Lake.
Lar Wang, however, was quite confident, and said that all was well.
This confidence was doubly unfortunate, for Gordon had excused him-
self from the Futai's banquet on the ground that his presence might
seem humiliating to the Taeping leaders, whereas it was the only thing
that could have averted their fate. As Gordon was leaving the city the
Wangs passed him, laughing and talking, and riding apparently unarmed

The Ever Victorious Army. loi

to the Futai's quarters. The next time Gordon saw them was when he
beheld their headless bodies lying on the river bank near their host's

Gordon after this walked through the city, as some hours would
elapse before the steamer could get round to the south-west side,
where he intended to embark. While on his way he was joined by
Dr Macartney. They both proceeded to the walls near the Eastern
Gate, and on looking towards the Futai's quarters Gordon noticed a
large crowd, but he did not attach any significance to it. About
half an hour later a large number of Imperial soldiers entered
the city, and set up a yell, as was their custom, and fired off guns.
Gordon represented to their officers that this conduct was against the
agreement, and might lead to disturbance, as the city was still crowded
with Taepings. At this juncture General Ching appeared. As Gordon
was supposed to be on his steamer on his way to the lake, he seemed
taken aback, and turned pale. To Gordon's repeated inquiries as to
whether all was well, he made a rambling statement that Lar Wang had
made unreasonable demands, that he had refused to carry out the
exact terms of the surrender, and finally, that he had run away. Gordon
then asked Dr Macartney, as he knew Chinese, to go to Lar Wang's
house, and reassure him if he found him there, but this statement must
be taken in conjunction with the important narrative I give two pages
further on. Gordon went a little way with General Ching, and
then decided to wait at the North Gate for further intelligence,
while the Chinese commander continued his round. Gordon then
began to question his own interpreter as to what he thought, and on
receiving the reply that "there was something improper," he deter-
mined to proceed himself with all speed to Lar Wang's house. On
his way he passed through crowds of excited Taeping soldiers, and he
also met a band of Imperialists laden with plunder. Lar Wang's palace
had been pillaged and gutted, but an uncle of his, named Wangchi, was
there, and he begged Gordon to help him to escort the females of Lar
Wang's family to his own house. Gordon agreed to do this, but when
he reached Wangchi's house, he found five or six hundred armed men in
the courtyard. The doors were closed, and Wangchi refused to allow
either Gordon or his interpreter to leave. During the night large
bodies of excited Taepings, who knew that their chiefs had been
entrapped, although, fortunately, not aware of their murder, rallied on
this spot, and Gordon was thus placed in a position of the greatest
personal peril.

At length leave was given him to send his interpreter, escorted by
two Taepings, to summon his own bodyguard, and to take an order


UNiVERsrry of catjforniX


I02 The Life of Gordon.

to another part of his force to seize the Futai and hold him as a
hostage for the safety of the Wangs. The interpreter was attacked
on the way by Imperiah'sts, who wounded him, and tore up Gordon's
letters. When one of the Taeping guides brought back this news
Gordon was allo\ved to leave himself for the same purpose ; but he
was arrested on the way by some Imperialists, detained for several
hours, and the morning was far advanced before he was able to
send back his bodyguard for the protection of Wangchi's house and
family. He then moved a further force into the city, to prevent the
massacre that the Imperialists seemed to be contemplating, and in this
task he was gallantly seconded by Captain Bonnefoy and the Franco-
Chinese contingent. Having taken these steps, Gordon waited near the
Eastern Gate for all his steamers, with which he intended to seize the
Futai, and make him give up the Wangs. At this moment General
Ching approached him, but before he could begin his excuses, " he
met with such a storm that he made a precipitate retreat into the city."
Ching then sent an English officer, one of Gordon's own force, to
explain matters, but he did not know whether the chiefs were alive or
dead. He went on to say, however, that Lar Wang's son v.-as in his
tent, and on the boy being sent for, he said that his father had been
executed on the opposite side of the creek. The steamers had still not
arrived, and Gordon asked one of his lieutenants, Prince F. von Wittgen-
stein, to cross the creek in his boat and report what he saw. He
returned with the intelligence that there were nine headless bodies.
Gordon then crossed himself, and identified Lar Wang and several of
his companions. There was consequently no further doubt as to what
had happened, or anything left for Gordon to do than to secure them
decent burial. Having done this he abandoned his trip to the Taiho
Lake, and hastened to Quinsan.

The exact mode of this assassination seems to have been as follows :
When the Wangs came out of the city they were met by General Ching,
who did not, however, accompany them to the Futai Li Hung Chang.
That official received them in a stockade near his boat, some conversa-
tion ensued, and then Li left the stockade. Here again reference
should be made to the authoritative narrative that follows. A party of
Imperial troops closed the gates, seized the Wangs, and at once
beheaded them. Li Flung Chang very soon afterwards left his quarters
for a different and remote part of the Imperial camp.

This treacherous act, although quite in accordance with Chinese
traditions, was generally denounced at the time, and has excited much
discussion since. Major Gordon certainly felt it very keenly, for he
considered that his word had been pledged as much as the Chinese

The Ever Victorious Army. T03

commander's for the safety of the leaders who surrendered. It has been
shown how energetically he acted once he suspected that anything was
wrong, but it seems as if it were going too far to say that he thought
for a moment of exacting a summary revenge on the person of
Li Hung Chang. Sir Henry Gordon, writing with at least a sense
of responsibility, says on this point : " It is not the fact that Major
Gordon sought the Futai with the intention of shooting him. It is a
complete misrepresentation to say he did so. It is true he endeavoured
unsuccessfully to have an explanation with him, but not of the nature
asserted." But it must also be reaffirmed that as long as Gordon
thought he could save the Wangs' lives he was prepared to secure the
person of Li Hung Chang and hold him as a hostage for their safety.
Of that, at least, there can be no question.

I must now ask the reader to return to the point when Gordon and
Dr Macartney were standing on the wall near the Low Mun Gate,
in order that the following important and authoritative narrative may
be understood. General Ching entered by this gate at the head of a
party of his troops, and Gordon, somewhat uneasy at the signs of
commotion he thought he had detected across the creek, at once
addressed him, asking — "Well, how did it go off? Have the Wangs
seen the Futai?"

Taken off his guard, or confused between the sudden question and
his own knowledge of what had occurred, Ching quickly replied, "They
have not seen the Futai."

" What ! " replied Gordon, equally hastily ; " that must be nonsense.
I saw the Wangs myself ride out of the city to the rendezvous, and spoke
to them."

Ching then corrected himself by saying, " Oh, yes, that is all right,
but they have not shaved their heads, and they want to retain half the
city," the western half, that nearest to the relieving force, still at a con-
siderable distance from Soochow, under the heroic Chung Wang.

To which Gordon at once responded, " That won't do. They must
conform with what has been agreed upon," and turning to Macartney,
he said, " Will you go to the Lar Wang's palace and tell him that this
cannot be, and meet me afterwards at WuUungchow, where I am to join
the steamer Hyson to go on the Taiho Lake ? "

Macartney at once accepted the mission, and proceeded to the Lar
Wang's palace, but before following him thither it is necessary to refer
to two earlier passages, one known and the other up to this moment
unknown, in the relations of General Gordon and Sir Halliday

The passage which is known is that where Macartney, sent as the

I04 The Life of Gordon.

representative of the Futai Li Hung Chang, and escorted by that
Governor's own bodyguard, healed the breach caused between Gordon
and General Ching by the latter firing on some of Gordon's troops and
treating the matter with marked levity, which so enraged Gordon that he
was on the point of attacking the Imperialist troops when Sir Halliday
Macartney arrived as peacemaker, and with equal tact and energy
averted the catastrophe. This incident has already been referred to, and
need not further detain us. I come now to the second and more inter-
esting matter.

Some weeks before the fall of Soochow, but at a moment when it
had become clear that the place could not hold out much longer,
Gordon approached Macartney and said : " I want to speak to you very
privately, and as I do not wish any one to hear our conversation, will you
come on board my boat ? " ^^'hen they were both on board, Gordon
ordered his Chinese sailors to pull out to the centre of the lake before
he would say a word. Having thus rendered secrecy assured, Gordon
spoke as follows : —

" Macartney, I have brought you out here so that nobody should
know of our conversation, and that we might speak out as man to man.
I must tell you, in the first place, that as soon as Soochow falls I intend
to resign the command and return home. With that intention in my
mind, I have been anxiously considering who was the best man to name
as my successor in the command of the Ever Victorious Army, and, after
the most careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that you
are the best man. Will you take the command ?"

This unexpected question was the more embarrassing to Macartney,
because, long before Gordon was appointed, rumour had freely credited
him with coveting the command of the Ever Victorious Army in suc-
cession to Burgevine, and, as a matter of fact, the Chinese authorities
had wished him to have the command. However, nothing had come
of the project, and Macartney, after his post as Burgevine's military
secretary had ceased to exist with the dismissal and treason of that
adventurer, was appointed to a separate command of a portion of the
Imperialist forces. The course of events had now, in an unexpected
but highly complimentary manner, brought the realisation of any hopes
he may have entertained on the subject within his reach. He replied
to Gordon as follows : —

" As you speak so frankly to me, I will speak equally frankly to you,
and tell you something I have never told a living person. Rumour has
credited me with having aspired to the command of this force, but
erroneously so. My ambition was to work myself up at Court, and
only to take the command if forced on me as a provisional matter, and

The Ever Victoriotts A^'my. 105

as a stepping-stone to my real object, which was, when my knowledge
of the language was perfected, to acquire at Peking some such influence
as that possessed by Verbiest and the other French missionaries in the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. I should never have mentioned
this to you lest you should not have believed it, but now that the
command is at my feet I may make this avowal without any hesitation
as to your accepting it. As you really think I can best succeed to the
command of the force when you resign it, I am perfectly willing to
accept the task."

To which Gordon replied : " Very well, then. That is settled."
With this private understanding, as to which nothing has been published
until this moment, the conversation closed with a final injunction
from Gordon of profound secrecy, as, should it become known, he
might be unable to get certain of his more ambitious officers to take
part in capturing the city. When Gordon therefore turned to
Macartney, and asked him to proceed to the Lar Wang's palace and
inform him that the terms of the convention must be carried out,
it is necessary in order to throw light on what follows to state what
their relations were at that moment. Gordon had selected Macartney
as his successor in preference to all his own officers.

Macartney hastened to the Lar Wang's palace, but as he had lent
Gordon his horse, his movements were slightly retarded. On reaching
the building he noticed some signs of confusion, and when he asked
one of the attendants to take him at once to his master, he received the
reply that the Lar Wang was out. Sir Halliday Macartney is not a
man to be lightly turned from his purpose, and to this vague response
he spoke in peremptory terms :

" The matter is of the first importance. I must see the Lar W^ang.
Take me to him."

Then the servant of the Taeping leader did a strange thing.

" You cannot see my master," he said, and turning his face to the
wall, so that no one else might see, he drew his open hand in a cutting
position backwards and forwards. This is the recognised Chinese
mode of showing that a man's head has been cut off.

Being thus apprised that something tragic had happened, Macartney
hastened away to Wuliungchow to keep his appointment with Gordon,
and to acquaint him with what had taken place at the Lar ^^'ang's
palace. But no Gordon came, and more than a day elapsed before
Macartney and he met again under dramatic circumstances at Quinsan.
After waiting at Wuliungchow some hours, Sir Halliday resolved to
proceed to the Futai's camp, and learn there what had happened. But
on arriving he was informed that the Futai was not in the camp, that no

io6 The Life of Gordon.

one knew where he was, and that Gordon was in a state of furious
wrath at the massacre of the Wangs, which was no longer concealed.
Macartney then endeavoured to find Gordon, but did not succeed,
which is explained by the fact that Gordon was then hastening to
Quinsan to collect his own troops. Bafilcd in these attempts, Macartney
returned, after a great many hours, to his own camp near the Paoti-
chiaou Bridge, there to await events, and on his arrival there he at
last found the Futai Li who had come to him for security. Li put into
his hands a letter, saying, " I have received that letter from Gordon.
Translate its contents."

After perusing it, Macartney said : " This letter is written in a fit
of indignation. You and Gordon are and have been friends, and I
am also the friend of you both. .The most friendly act I can do both
of you is to decline to translate it. Let me therefore return you the
letter unread."

"Very well," replied Li; "do as you think best, but as I am not

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 12 of 40)