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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 13 of 40)
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to know the contents, I do not wish to have the letter. Please keep it."

Sir Halliday Macartney kept the letter, which remained in his
possession for some time, until, in fact, he handed it, with an explana-
tory account of the whole affair, to Sir Harry Parkes, as will be
explained further on.

After this point had been settled, Li Hung Chang went on to
say that he wished Macartney to go and see Gordon at Quinsan,
and speak to him as follows : —

"Tell Gordon that he is in no way, direct or indirect, responsible
in this matter, and that, if he considers his honour involved, I will
sign any proclamation he likes to draft, and publish it far and wide
that he had no part in or knowledge of it. I accept myself the full
and sole responsibility for what has been done. But also tell Gordon
that this is China, not Europe. I wished to save the lives of the
Wangs, and at first thought that I could do so, but they came with
their heads unshaved, they used defiant language, and proposed a
deviation from the convention, and I saw that it would not be safe
to show mercy to these rebels. Therefore what was done was inevit-
able. But Gordon had no part in it, and whatever he demands to
clear himself shall be done."

I do not gather that Sir Halliday ALicartney had any serious
misgivings about this mission when he undertook it. His relations
with Gordon were, as has been shown, of a specially cordial and
confidential character, and even if he failed to induce Gordon to
abandon the threatening plans he had described in his letter to Li
Hung Chang, which was in his pocket, there was no reason to appre-



The Ever Victorious Army. 107

hend any personal unpleasantness with one who had given the
clearest proof of friendship and esteem. As I cannot give the full
text of the original letter from General Gordon, I content myself by
stating that its two principal passages were that Li Hung Chang
should at once resign his post of Governor of Kiangsu, and give
up the seals of office to Gordon, so that he might put them in
commission until the Emperor's pleasure should be ascertained; or
that, failing that step, Gordon would forthwith proceed to attack the
Imperialists, and to retake from them all the places captured by
the Ever Victorious Army, for the purpose of handing them back
again to the Taepings. When Gordon went so far as to write a
letter of that character, which, it must be admitted, was far in excess
of any authority he possessed, it must be clear that the envoy,
who came to put forward counsels that were intended to restore
harmony, but that by so doing might assume the aspect of palliating
the Futai's conduct, could not count on a very cordial reception from
a man of Gordon's temperament, whose sense of honour and good
faith had been deeply injured by the murder of the rebel leaders.

Still, Sir Halliday accepted the mission without hesitation, and has-
tened to carry it out without delay. It was late in the day when he saw
Li Hung Chang, but having procured a native boat with several rowers,
he set off in the evening, and reached Quinsan in the middle of the
night. Gordon was then in bed and could not be disturbed, and while
Macartney \vaited he drank some coffee Gordon's servant made for him,
which he much needed, as he had left Soochow without having broken
his fast during the whole day. After a short time, and before day had
really broken, Gordon sent down word that he would see him, and
Macartney went upstairs to an ill-lighted room, where he found Gordon
sitting on his bedstead. He found Gordon sobbing, and before a
word was exchanged, Gordon stooped down, and taking something
from under the bedstead, held it up in the air, exclaiming :

" Do you see that ? Do you see that ? "

The light through the small Chinese windows was so faint that
Macartney had at first some difficulty in recognising what it was, when
Gordon again exclaimed :

" It is the head of the Lar Wang, foully murdered ! " and with that
burst into hysterical tears.

At once perceiving that any conversation under these circumstances
would do no good, Macartney said he would retire and see Gordon
later. Some hours afterwards breakfast was served in a large room
downstairs, where there were present not only many of the officers, but
also several European merchants and traders of Shanghai, who had been



io8 The Life of Go7'don.

in the habit of supplying the force with its commissariat requirements.
Gordon came in, and Macartney took a seat beside him. After a few
minutes' silence Gordon turned to Macartney, and said abruptly :

" You have not come for yourself. You have come on a mission
from the Futai. What is it ? "

When Macartney suggested that so public a place might not be the
most suitable, Gordon said : " There are only friends here. I have no
secrets. Speak out."

There was no longer any honourable way of avoiding the challenge,
and jNIacartney described exactly what has been already recorded as to
Li Hung Chang having come to him with Gordon's letter, which from
friendly motives he had declined to translate, and stating that Li took
the whole responsibility on himself, and would exonerate Gordon from
the least complicity in the affair, with which the Chinese statesman
averred Gordon had had nothing to do. He went on to urge with
regard to the measures threatened by Gordon in expiation of the
massacre that they were not justifiable, and would not in the end
redound to Gordon's own credit. In conclusion, he said he felt sure
that " a little reflection would show Gordon that to carry on a personal
war with the Futai would be to undo all the good that had been done.
Moreover, you must recollect that although you, no doubt, have at this
moment the military force to carry out your threats, it will no longer be
paid by the Chinese authorities. You will only be able to keep your
men at your back by allowing them to plunder, and how long will that
prove successful, and what credit will you get by it ? "

Gordon here stamped his foot, saying he would have none of
Macartney's mild counsels. To which Macartney replied, " Mild or
not, they are the only ones your Minister at Peking and our Queen
will approve. Nay, what I advise you to do is even that you would
yourself do if you would but reflect, and not let yourself be influenced
by those men sitting at your table."

To these undoubtedly prudent representations, supported as they
were by at least one of those present, Mr Henry Dent, who got up and
said that, in his opinion, Dr Macartney's advice ought to be followed,
while the others who wished the war to go on from interested motives
remained silent, Gordon did and would not listen. The hot fit of rage
and horror at the treacherous murder of the Wangs, kept at fever-point
by the terrible memorial in his possession, was still strong upon him,
and his angry retort was — "I will have none of your tame counsels,"
and there and then ordered the Hyson, with a party of infantry, to be
got ready to attack the Futai, at the same time offering Macartney a
passage in the steamer.



The Ever Victorious Army. 109

On hearing this decisive declaration Macartney left the table, and
hastening to one of Gordon's officers, who was a personal friend, he
begged the loan of a horse and a pair of spurs. Having obtained what
he wanted, he set off riding as hard as he could by the road, which was
somewhat shorter than the canal, so that he might warn Li Hung Chang
as to what was going to happen, and also bring up his own troops to
oppose the advance of Gordon, who actually did move out of Quinsan
with the intention of carrying out his threats, but returned there when
his flotilla had proceeded half way.

By that time he had fortunately reflected on the situation, and a
sanguinary struggle was averted. Gordon came to see that his honour
was not in the slightest or most remote degree involved, and that
China was not a country to which the laws of chivalry could be applied ;
but before he had reached this stage of mental equilibrium he had
])enned a most regrettable and cruelly unjust despatch, not about Li
Hung Chang or any one involved in the massacre, but about Dr,
now Sir Halliday Macartney, whose sole fault had been that he wished
to make peace, and to advise Gordon to act in the very sense which
he afterwards himself adopted.

In a despatch to General Brown, commanding at Shanghai, which
appears in the Blue Book (China, No. 3, 1864, p. 198), Gordon wrote:
"I then went to his (Li's) boat and left him a note in Enghsh, inform-
ing him of what my intention had been, and also my opinion of his
treachery. I regret to say that Mr Macartney did not think fit to
have this translated to him. . . . On 8th December the Futai sent
Mr Macartney to persuade me that he could not have done otherwise,
and I blush to think that he could have got an Englishman, late an
officer in Her Majesty's army, to undertake a mission of such a nature."'
This statement, appearing in an official publication, has been largely
quoted, especially in Mr Egmont Hake's " Story of Chinese Gordon,"
and the original injury done by Gordon, for which at the time he
atoned, was thus repeated in an offensive and altogether unjustifiable
form twenty years after Gordon had stated publicly that he was
sorry for having written this passage, and believed that Sir Halliday
Macartney was actuated by just as noble sentiments as himself.

It is not an agreeable task for any biographer to record that his hero
was in the wrong, but as General Gordon frankly and fully admitted
that in this matter he was altogether to blame, and as Mr Hake's
error shows that his retractation never obtained that publicity which
he himself desired, I conceive myself to be carrying out his wishes
in placing the following facts prominently before the reader.

When the Blue Book was published with the despatch referred to,



no The Life of Gordon.

Dr Macartney took no notice of it. Some time afterwards he met the
late Sir Harry Parkes, then Consul-General at Shanghai, and he de-
scribed what I have set forth in the same language. Sir Harry Parkes,
than whom England never had a finer representative in the Far East,
at once said : "This is very interesting. Sir Frederick Bruce is coming
down shortly. I wish you would write out what you have told me, so
that I might show it to him." Dr Macartney wrote out his narrative,
and with it he sent Gordon's original letter to Li Hung Chang. Those
documents have never been published, but they should still exist in the
Shanghai Consulate. Sir Frederick Bruce's (brother of the ambassador
Lord Elgin, and himself the First British Minister at Peking) comment
after perusing them was : " Dr Macartney showed very great judgment
and good sense, and no blame attaches to him in this matter."

A considerable period intervened between the breakfast scene at
Quinsan and Gordon's next meeting with ISIacartney. In that period
much had happened. Gordon had forgiven Li Hung Chang, done
everything that Macartney had recommended as the right course in the
memorable scene at Quinsan, and by some of the most remarkable of
his military exploits had crushed the Taeping rebellion, but the two
principal actors in this affair had not crossed each other's path.

Six weeks after Gordon brought his operations in the field to an end
at Chanchufu in May he returned to Soochow, and Li Hung Chang,
wishing to do him honour, asked him to an official breakfast at his
yamen. At the same time Li Hung Chang said to Macartney : " I
have asked Gordon to breakfast. I know you and he have had some
difference. How would you meet him if you came too ? "

To this question jNLicartney replied : " I would meet Gordon
exactly as Gordon met me. It is true that Gordon did me an in-
justice, but I am quite ready to blot it out from my memory if Gordon
will admit it. Gordon acted under a strong feeling of excitement when
he was not master of himself, and I have no more thought of holding
him strictly responsible for what he wrote at such a moment than I
would a madman."

Li Hung Chang said : " Very well, then. I ask you to come to
breakfast to meet him." On Macartney's return to his house he
found a letter from Gordon waiting for him. In this letter Gordon
admitted that he had done him a wrong, and was prepared to sign any
paper to that effect that Macartney might prepare.

Macartney thereupon replied to Gordon, pointing out that the mere
publication of a letter of retractation was not an adequate reparation for
an injurious statement which had been given a wide circulation, and to
a certain extent placed beyond recall by appearing in an official publi-



The Ever Victorious Army. \ 1 1

cation, but that if he might pubhsh Gordon's own letter offering to do
this in the North China Herald, he would be satisfied, and the matter,
as far as he was concerned, might be considered at an end. To this
course Gordon at once acquiesced, subject to the omission of one
paragraph affecting a third person, and in no respect relating to Sir
Halliday or his conduct. This letter, which the Editor of that paper
stated he "published at Colonel Gordon's request," on 23rd July 1864,
read as follows : —

"Shanghai, July 5, 1S64.

"My dear Macartney, — It is with much regret that I perceive in the
last Blue Book issued on China affairs a Report from me to General Brown
on the occurrences at Soochow, which report contains an injurious remark
on your conduct.

" I am extremely sorry that I ever penned that remark, as I believe you
went out of your way on this occasion wholly on the same public grounds
which led eventually to my taking the field myself, and I can only excuse
my having done so by recollecting the angry feelings with which I was
actuated at that time.

" It will be my duty to rectify this error in other quarters, and in the
meantime I beg you to make what use you may think fit of this letter. —
Yours truly, C. G. GORDON."

On the next day Gordon and Macartney met at breakfast at the
yamen of the Futai Li Hung Chang, and Gordon at once came up to
Macartney and said :

" Do not let us talk of the past, but of the future. I am one of
those who hold that when a man has wronged another he should seek
opportunities through his life of making him redress. Now you are
founding an Arsenal at Soochow, and I am going back to England,
where I have a brother in the Arsenal at Woolwich. From him I can
get you books, plans, and useful information. I will do so."

Gordon was as good as his word. He sent Macartney expensive
plans and books, besides most valuable information. He also promised
to write to the Duke of Cambridge as Commander-in-Chief, admitting
that he was not justified in his criticism of Dr Macartney, who had
acted in every way becoming an English gentleman and officer. Thus
ended the misunderstanding between the two Englishmen who rendered
China the best service she has ever obtained from foreigners; and know-
ing both these distinguished men intimately, I have much pleasure in
testifying from my own knowledge to the accuracy of the following
statement of Sir Halliday Macartney to myself that "after this, Gordon
and I remained firm friends evermore."

Gordon's indignation at this outrage did not soon subside, and three
weeks after it happened an opportunity presented itself for showing and
perhaps relieving his mind A high Chinese officer presented himself at



r 1 2 The Life of Gordon.

his quarters at Quinsan to announce the receipt of an Imperial decree and
presents from Peking as a reward for his share in the capture of Soochow.
Gordon at once said that he would not accept the presents, and that
they were not to be brought to him. The Chinese officer replied that
they should not be brought, but that the emissary of the Emperor
ought to be received. To this Gordon assented, and on ist January
1864 he went down to receive him at the West Gate. On arriving there
he met a procession carrying a number of open boxes, containing
10,000 taels (then about ^3000 of our money) in Sycee shoes, laid on
red cloth, also four Snake flags taken from the Taepings — two sent by
Li Hung Chang, and two by another mandarin who had had no part
in the Soochow affair. Gordon made the procession turn about and
take the whole lot back again. He wrote his reply stating his reason
on the back of the Imperial rescript itself; he rejected Li Hung Chang's
flags, but he accepted the other two as being in no sense associated
with the disgrace of the Taeping massacre. In this manner did Gordon
show the Chinese what he thought of their conduct. His characteristic
reply to the Imperial rescript read as follows : —

" Major Gordon receives the approbation of His Majesty the
Emperor with every gratification, but regrets most sincerely that, owing
to the circumstance which occurred since the capture of Soochow, he is
unable to receive any mark of H.M. the Emperor's recognition, and
therefore respectfully begs His Majesty to receive his thanks for his
intended kindness, and to allow him to decline the same."

At this moment it will be recollected that Gordon was, strictly
speaking, no longer in command. He had resigned, because his very
reasonable demand for a gratuity to his troops had not been complied
with. But circumstances were too strong for him, and a number of
considerations, all highly creditable to his judgment and single-minded-
ness, induced him to sink his private grievances, and to resume the
command on grounds of public policy and safety. The internal condi-
tion of the Ever Victorious Army itself, which inaction had brought to
the verge of mutiny, was the determining fact that induced Gordon to
resume the command, even at the price of meeting Li Hung Chang
and sinking his differences with him. There had been much intrigue
among the officers of the force as to who should succeed Gordon in the
command, if he persisted in his resolve to give it up, and before tran-
quillity was restored sixteen of the agitating officers had to be dismissed.
The force itself welcomed the formal resumption of the command by
Gordon, and not the less because it signified a return to active '
operations after more than two months' inaction. The murder of the
Wangs took place on 7th December 1863; it was on iSth February



TJie Ever Victorious Army, 113

1864 that Gordon marched out of Quinsan at the head of the bulk of
his force.

In a letter written at the time, Sir Robert Hart, whose services to
the Chinese Government, spread over the long period of forty years,
have been of the highest order and importance, said : —

" The destiny of China is at the present moment in the hands of
Gordon more than of any other man, and if he be encouraged to act
vigorously, the knotty question of Taepingdom verstcs ' union in the
cause of law and order' will be solved before the end of May, and quiet
will at length be restored to this unfortunate and sorely-tried country.
Personally, Gordon's wish is to leave the force as soon as he can. Now
that Soochow has fallen, there is nothing more that he can do, whether to
add to his own reputation or to retrieve that of British officers generally,
tarnished by Holland's defeat at Taitsan. He has little or nothing
personally to gain from future successes, and as he has himself to lead
in all critical moments, and is constantly exposed to danger, he has
before him the not very improbable contingency of being hit sooner or
later. But he lays aside his personal feelings, and seeing well that if he
were now to leave the force it would in all probability go at once to the
rebels or cause some other disaster, he consents to remain with it for a
time."

During that interval some minor successes had been obtained by the
Imperialists. Several towns surrendered to Li Hung Chang, and Chung
Wang evacuated Wusieh and retired to Chanchufu, also on the Grand
Canal. At the same time he hastened himself to Nanking, in the vain
hope of arousing Tien Wang to the gravity of the situation, and
inducing him to make some special effort to turn the fortune of the
war. General Ching succeeded in capturing Pingwang, and with it
another entrance into the Taiho Lake. San Tajin moved his camp
close up to Changchufu and engaged the Taepings in almost daily en-
counters, during one of which the Firefly steamer was retaken, and its
English captain killed. In consequence of this all the Europeans left
the service of the Taepings, and as their fleet had been almost entirely
destroyed, they were now hemmed in within a small compass, and
Gordon himself estimated that they ought to be finally overcome within
two months. In this hope he resumed the command, and his decision
was officially approved of and confirmed by the British Minister at
Peking.

The Taepings still retained possession of Hangchow and some other
towns in the province of Chekiang, but all communication between them
and Nanking had been severed by the fall of Soochow, so far at least as
the routes east of the Taiho Lake were concerned. West of that lake they

H



114 The Life of Gordon.

still held Yesing and Liyang, which enabled them to maintain communi-
cation, although by a roundabout route. Gordon determined to begin
his campaign by attacking these two places, when the severance would
be complete.

Yesing, on the north-west corner of the lake, was the first object of
attack. Liyang is about fifty miles further inland than that town. The
Taepings at Yesing wc.-re not dreaming of an attack when Gordon, at the
head of his force, suddenly appeared before its walls. He found the
surrounding villages in a most appalling state of distress, the inhabi-
tants living on human food. The town was well surrounded by ditches
and stockades, and Gordon felt compelled to reconnoitre it most care-
fully before deciding on his plan of attack. While engaged in this work
his ardour carried him away, and he was nearly captured by the enemy.
It was one of the narrowest of his many escapes during the war, and
went far to justify the reputation he had gained of having a charmed life.
A very striking instance of his narrowly escaping a premature end had
occurred during the siege of Soochow itself, when the marvellous fifty-
three-arch bridge at Patachiaou was destroyed. One evening Gordon
was seated smoking a cigar on one of the damaged parapets of the bridge,
when two shots fired by his own men struck the stone-work close by
him. He got down at the second shot, and entered his boat. Hardly
had he done so when the bridge collapsed with a tremendous crash,
nearly smashing his boat and killing two men. In all the engagements,
except when confined to his boat, Gordon always led the attack, carrying
no weapons, except a revolver w'hich he wore concealed in his breast,
and never used except once, against one of his own mutineers, but only
a little rattan cane, which his men called his magic wand of Victory. A
graphic picture was drawn by one of his own officers of this unarmed
leader in the breach of an assaulted position urging on his men by
catching them by the sleeve of their coats, and by standing indifferent
and unresisting in the midst of the thickest fire. Gordon long after-
wards admitted that during the whole of these scenes he was con-
tinuously praying to the Almighty that his men should not turn tail.
In the varied and voluminous annals of war there is no more strikins
figure than this of human heroism combined with spiritual fervour.

The attack on Yesing lasted several days, as, owing to the manner in
which the country was cut up by canals, all the operations had to be
conducted with great caution. The capture of the southern stockades
was followed after a day's interval by the evacuation of the latter and
the flight of the garrison, who however pillaged the town as far as they
could before leaving. Gordon would not let his men enter the town,
as he knew they would pillage, and thus get out of hand. They were so



The Ever Victorious Army. 1 1 5

disappointed that several cases of insubordination occurred, and one
mutineer had to be shot. The Imperialists were left to garrison Yesing,
but under strict injunctions that they were on no account to take life;
and under the threats of Li Hung Chang, who did not wish a repetition
of the Soochow affair, these were strictly obeyed. All these arrange-
ments having been made, Gordon resumed his march towards Liyang
on 4th March, the infantry proceeding overland, and the artillery in
the boats and Hyso7i steamer.

At Liyang the rebels had collected a large force, and made every
preparation for a vigorous defence. But Gordon was quite confident of



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 13 of 40)