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 14 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 14 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

success, although he was now operating in the heart of a hostile country,
and at a distance from his base. The sound flotilla which mounted
formidable artillery, and which co-operated with him on the creek that
led to the walls of Liyang, gave him sound reasons for confidence, and
additional ground of security in the event of any accident. But his
military skill and careful arrangements were not subjected to any severe
test, as a mutiny broke out among the Taepings themselves, and the
half in favour of surrender got possession of the city, and closed the
gates on those of their comrades who wished to hold out. Major
Gordon promptly accepted their surrender, and guaranteed their personal
safety to all, thus obtaining a signal success without any loss. This was
the more satisfactory because Liyang was found to be an admirable
position for defence, strongly fortified with numerous stockades, well
supplied with provisions for several months' siege, and garrisoned by
15,000 well-armed and well-clothed rebels. These men were disarmed,
and allowed to go where they liked after they had shaved their heads in
token of surrender. The provisions they had stored up for their own
use were distributed among the starving peasants of the surrounding
country. Gordon himself saved the lives of the female relatives of the
Taeping Wang, who had wished to hold out, not however, it should
in fairness be stated, from the official Chinese, but from the Taepings
who had surrendered. After the capitulation was over, Gordon took
1000 of the Taepings into his own force, and he also engaged the
services of another 1500 as a new contingent, to fight under their
own officers. In this unusual manner he nearly doubled the effective
strength of his own corps, and then advanced north to attack the
town of Kintang, rather more than forty miles north of Liyang. At
this point Gordon experienced his first serious rebuff at the hands
of Fortune, for the earlier reverse at the Soochow stockades was so
clearly due to a miscarriage in the attack, and so ephemeral in its
issue, that it can scarcely be counted.

Unlike the other Taeping tgwns, all of which were stockaded posi-

II 6 The Life of Gordon.

tions, Kintang had no outer defences. It presented the appearance of

a small compact city with a stone wall. No flags were shown ; the place

might have been deserted, but the complete silence seemed ominous.

Gordon selected his point of attack, and began a bombardment, which

continued during three hours, and then he ordered the assault. As the

bugles sounded the advance, the Taepings appeared for the first time on

the walls, and received the assailants with a heavy fire. At this critical

moment Gordon received a severe wound below the knee, and had to

be carried to his boat. His place was taken by Major Brown, brother

of the General commanding at Shanghai, who advanced weaving Gordon's

own flag, but he too received a severe wound, and was carried off the

field. The rebels fought with great desperation, and Gordon, who

remained conscious, sent orders from his boat for the discontinuance of

the attack. The loss was heavy — two officers killed, eleven wounded,

and 115 rank and file killed and wounded. Gordon, notwithstanding

his wound, would have renewed the attack, but for the receipt of alarming

intelligence from his rear. Li Hung Chang wrote that the Taepings

had turned the flank of his brother's army, and captured Fushan. They

were at that moment besieging Chanzu, and had carried terror into the

very heart of the Imperial position. Gordon's wound — the only one of

any severity he ever received — excited much sympathy among the

Chinese, and was made the subject of an Imperial edict ordering Li

Hung Chang to call on him daily, and "requesting Gordon to wait

until he shall be perfectly restored to health and strength."

In the extremity to which he was reduced, the brilliant idea had
occurred to Chung Wang to assume the offensive at a point most
remote from the scene where Gordon was acting in person. Hence
the sudden and successful attack on Fushan, and his strategy was
rewarded by the paralysis it produced in the Imperial plans. Gordon
at once hastened back to Liyang, where he left a strong garrison,
and taking only 1000 men, half of whom were the irregular Taeping
contingent raised at Liyang itself, proceeded by forced marches to
Wusieh. As the late Sir George Chesney well said, it is impossible
to decide whether the temerity or the confidence of the young wounded
commander was the more calculated to excite wonder. On arriving
here, he found that nothing worse had happened than what had been
already reported, while in the south, beyond his sphere of operations, the
important city of Hangchow had been evacuated by the Taepings ; and
with this loss another avenue for obtaining arms and ammunition was
closed to them.

The relief of Kongyin, which was hard pressed, was the first task
Gordon set himself; and as he could not leave his boat on account

The Ever Victorious Army. 117

of his wound, the conduct of operations was attended with much dififi-
culty. After obtaining several minor successes, and approaching to within
a few miles of Kongyin, Gordon found it necessary to completely alter
his plans, and to attack the Taepings in their headquarters at Waisso,
before relieving the former place. He accordingly proceeded to Waisso
with his artillery on board the flotilla, and his infantry marching by land.
The latter, carried away by some trifling successes, attacked the Waisso
stockades without his orders, and even without his knowledge; and
having invited a reverse by their rashness and disobedience, rendered it
complete by an inexcusable panic, during which the Taeping cavalry,
not more than 100 strong, rode through the best regiment of the force;
the rebels, carrying a sword in each hand, cut down the fugitives right
and left. The pursuit lasted for three miles, and 7 European officers
killed, I wounded, 252 men killed, and 62 wounded, represented the
heavy loss in this disastrous affair. The survivors, many of whom had
thrown away their arms, were so panic-stricken that Gordon had to
retire, and to summon up fresh troops.

For this disaster Gordon held the officers, and not the men, to be
blameworthy. They led the men into a false position, and then did
not make the proper movements. If the men had only formed square,
Gordon wrote, it would have been all right with them. After this
Gordon waited to allow of his wound being thoroughly cured, and on
6th April he again appeared before Waisso. A large Imperial force also
enveloped the place on all sides but one, which had been left apparently
open and unguarded in the hope that the garrison would use it as a
means of reaching a place of safety. The Imperialists had, however,
broken all the bridges along this route, so that the Taepings would soon
encounter serious difficulties to their progress, and admit of their being
taken at a great disadvantage. Gordon approached the place with
much caution, and he found it so strongly fortified on the south side,
opposite his line of approach, that he moved round to the north in
search of a more favourable point of attack. This simple manoeuvre so
disconcerted the Taepings that they abandoned several of their stock-
ades, which Gordon promptly seized ; and finding that these in turn
commanded others^, he succeeded in carrying the whole of a most for-
midable position with little or no loss. The Taeping garrison fled in
confusion and suffered heavily at the hands of the Imperial troops. It
rallied on the camp before Kongyin, and the day after this success
Gordon marched from Waisso to attack them. The Taepings were
thoroughly disorganised, and apparently amazed at the number of their
opponents, for the whole of the population rose against them in revenge
for the outrages they had perpetrated. There was only one action, and

ii8 The Life of Goi'don.

that of an insignificant description, when the whole Taeping force before
Kongyin broke into a rout. The Imperialist plan for retarding their
retreat succeeded to admiration, and of more than 10,000 men not a
tenth escaped from the sword of their pursuers.

In a letter written at this time to his mother, Gordon, who, at the end
of February had been raised to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the
army for distinguished conduct in the field, gave a graphic account of
the condition of the region in which he was operating : —

" The rebels are very much pressed, and three months should finish
them. During the pursuit from Kongyin the Imperialists and villagers
killed in one village 3000. I will say this much — the Imperialists did
not kill the coolies and boys. The villagers followed up and stripped
the fugitives stark naked, so that all over the country there were naked
men lying down in the grass. The cruelties these rebels had committed
during their raid were frightful ; in every village therewere from ten to sixty
dead, either women — frightfully mutilated — old men, or small children,
I do not regret the fate of these rebels. I have no talent for description,
but the scenes I have witnessed of misery are something dreadful, and
I must say that your wish for me to return with the work incomplete
would not be expressed if you saw the state of these poor people. The
horrible furtive looks of the wretched inhabitants hovering around one's
boat haunts me, and the knowledge of their want of nourishment would
sicken anyone. They are like wolves. The dead lie where they fall,
and are in some cases trodden quite fiat by the passers-by. I hope to
get the Shanghai people to assist, but they do not .y^^ these things, and to
read that there are human beings eating human flesh produces less
effect than if they saw the corpses from which that flesh is cut. There
is one thing I promise you, and that is, that as soon as I can leave this
service, I will do so; but I will not be led to do what may cause great
disasters for the sake of getting out of the dangers, which, in my opinion,
are no greater in action than in barracks. My leg is all right ; the
eleventh day after I received the wound I was up, and by the fifteenth
day I could walk well. The ball went through the thick part of the leg
just below the knee."

Having thus cleared the district due north of Wusieh, Gordon pro-
ceeded against the main Taeping position at Chanchufu, north-west of
that place, and on the Grand Canal. Here Chung Wang had fortified
thirty stockades, and commanded in person. On inspecting it, Gordon
found it so strong that he summoned up his troops from Liyang, and it
was not until 22nd April, ten days after Waisso, that he had collected
all his force of 4000 men for the attack. On the very day he accom-
plished this the Imperialists alone attacked some stockades outside the


The Ever Victorious Army. 119

West Gate, and carried them by a heavy and unnecessary loss of Hfe.
Their defenders, instead of retreating into Chanchulu, fled northwards to
their next possession, at Tayan. I'he same night part of the garrison leit
behind made a sortie, but Gordon was apprised of it, and it was easily
repulsed. The next day he captured all the stockades on the southern,
or, more correctly, the western side of the Canal, but the Taepings still
held a strong stone fort on the opposite side, which defied all the efibrts
of the Imperialists. Two hundred of the Liyang corps gallantly crossed
the Canal in boats, forced open the back door of the fort, and carried it
at a rush. With this success all the outworks of Chanchufu were taken,
and the town itself closely besieged. Gordon then proceeded to plant
his batteries opposite the point he had selected for attack, but a regret-
table affair happened in the night, when the picket on guard fired into
the party working at the battery, and killed Colonel Tapp, an excellent
officer who commanded the artillery of the force. This mishap was
quickly followed by others. The Imperialists under their own generals
wished to get all the credit of the capture, and attacked several times on
their own side, but always without obtaining any advantage. Nor was
Gordon himself more fortunate. After a severe bombardment, to which
the Taepings made no reply, Gordon assaulted on 27th April. His men
succeeded in throwing two pontoons across the ditch, twenty yards
wide, and some of his officers reached the wall ; but the Taepings met
them boldly with a terrific storm of fire-balls, bags of powder, stinkpots,
and even showers of bricks. Twice did Gordon lead his men to the
assault, but he had to admit his repulse with the loss of his pontoons,
and a great number of his best officers and men. Ten officers killed
and 19 wounded, 40 men killed and 260 wounded, represented the cost
of this disastrous failure.

Undaunted by this defeat, Gordon proceeded to lay siege in regular
form and Li Hung Chang lent him the services of his own troops in
order to dig the necessary trenches. Working only at night, and with
equal celerity and secrecy, a succession of trenches were made right up
to the edge of the ditch. At the same time, proclamations in large
characters were exhibited, offering terms to all who came over, except
the Wang in command ; and many desertions took place. At last, on
nth May, the place was again assaulted, this time at mid-day ; and owing
to the short distance from the advance trench to the breach, the Chinese
troops of all kinds were able to come to close fighting with the Tae-
pings without any preliminary loss. The Taepings fought with great
courage, even although their chief Hoo Wang was taken prisoner early in
the fight, but at last they were overwhelmed by numbers. Hoo Wang and
all the Canton and Kwangsi men — that is to say, the original Taeping

120 The Life of Goi'don.

band — were executed, and the completeness of the triumpli was demon-
strated by the surrender, two days later, of Tayan, the last of the Taeping
possessions on the Grand Canal. On the spur of the moment, two hours
after the successful assault, Gordon wrote a hurried few lines to his
mother, stating, to relieve her anxiety, that he would " not again take
the field," and that he was happy to say he had " got off safe."

The capture of Chanchufu was the last achievement of the Ever
Victorious Army, which marched back to Quinsan, its headquarters, in
preparation for its disbandment, which had been decided on by the
joint conclusion of the Chinese and European authorities. It had done
its work, and the Chinese naturally regarded the presence of this
formidable and somewhat unruly force with no little apprehension.
The Taepings were now confined to Nanking, and the Viceroy, Tseng
Kvvofan, felt confident that before long he would be able to capture that
city. The British Government had decided that the service of Major
Gordon under the Chinese should terminate on ist June 1864, and
some weeks before that order was put in force the army was quietly
disbanded, without any disturbance or display. The troops themselves
would have given their commander a demonstration, but he evaded
them, and escaped quietly into Shanghai, passing without regret from
the position of the arbiter of an Empire's destiny to the routine of an
English officer's existence. At the same time a considerable part of
his force was taken into the service of Li Hung Chang.

Gordon's own opinion of his work was given in the following letter : —

" I have the satisfaction of knowing that the end of this rebeUion
is at hand, while, had I continued inactive, it might have lingered on
for years. I do not care a jot about my promotion or what people
may say. I know I shall leave China as poor as I entered it, but
with the knowledge that, through my weak instrumentality, upwards of
eighty to one hundred thousand lives have been spared. 1 want no
further satisfaction than this."

Having retired from the active direction of the campaign, Gordon
still retained sufficient interest in the work he had had in hand so long
to incline him to accept an invitation to visit the lines of Tseng Kwolan
before Nanking. On 26th June he visited that Viceroy's camp, and
found that his position extended over from twenty-four to thirty miles,
and that he commanded 80,000 troops, who were, however, badly
armed. The troops were well fed, but ill paid, and at last confident
of success. While Gordon was there, or only a few hours after he left,
Tien Wang, the leader of the moribund Taeping cause, seeing no
chance of escape, swallowed gold leaf in the approved regal fashion, and
died. On the 19th July the Impcriahsts succeeded in running a gallery

The Ever Victorious Ariny. 121

under the wall of Nanking, and in charging it with 40,000 lbs. of
powder. The explosion destroyed fifty yards of the wall, and the
Imperialists at once stormed the breach. Chung Wang made a valiant
defence in his own palace, and then cut his way out, at the head of
1000 men. Very few of these escaped, but Chung Wang and the
young Tien Wang, son of the defunct leader, were among the fortunate
few. Chung Wang was soon captured, and beheaded on 7th August,
after being allowed a week's respite to write the history of the Taeping
rebellion. At least it may be claimed for him that he was the only
true hero of the rebel movement. Gordon's own estimation of this
leader is given in these words : —

" He was the bravest, most talented, and enterprising leader the
rebels had. He had been in more engagements than any other rebel
leader, and could always be distinguished. His presence with the
Taepings was equal to a reinforcement of 5000 men, and was always
felt by the superior way in which the rebels resisted. He was the
only rebel chief whose death was to be regretted ; the others, his
followers, were a ruthless set of bandit chiefs."

The young Tien Wang was eventually captured and executed.
Thus terminated, in the blood of its authors and leaders, the great
rebellion, which had inflicted an incalculable amount of misery and
loss on the Chinese people in a vain attempt to subvert the existing
dynasty. Six hundred cities were stated to have been destroyed during
its course, and sixteen out of the eighteen provinces to have witnessed
the ravages of civil war.

Having thus concluded his work as commander of the Ever Victor-
ious Army, it might have been thought that Gordon would be allowed to
carry out his own wish of returning home as quickly as possible, but
the English, as well as the Chinese, authorities were desirous of organis-
ing a purely Chinese force, with the object of supplying the Government
with the means of asserting its authority over any internal enemies.
Sir Frederick Bruce came specially from Pekin to Shanghai on the
subject, and Gordon undertook to give the necessary organisation his
personal supervision until it was in fair working order. From the end
of June until the middle of November Colonel Gordon was engaged
in the Chinese camp, which was formed at a place near Sungkiang,
drilling recruits, and endeavouring to inspire the officers with the
military spirit. He describes his work in the following short note,
which is also interesting as expressing his impressions about the Chinese
people : —

" I have the manual, and platoon, and company drill in full
swing, also part of the battahon drill, and one or two men know their

122 The Life of Gordon.

gun drill very fairly. This is so far satisfactory, and I think, it" the whole
country was not corrupt, they might go on well and quickly, but really it
is most irritating to see the jealousies of the mandarins of one another.
The people are first-rate, hard-working, and fairly honest ; but it seems
as soon as they rise in office they become corrupt. There is lots of
vitality in the country, and there are some good men ; but these are
kept down by the leaden apathy of their equals, who hate to see reform,
knowing their own deficiencies."

By the end of November Gordon was able to think of returning
home, as he had given a start to military reform in China ; but before
he sailed he had to receive a congratulatory address from the most
prominent citizens and merchants of Shanghai, expressing their "apprecia-
tion and admiration of his conduct." They had not always been so
discriminating, and at the beginning their sympathies had been for the
Taepings, or at least for strict non-intervention. The Chinese Govern-
ment also gave exceptional signs of its gratitude to the noble-minded
soldier, who had rendered it such invaluable aid. It again offered
him a large sum of money, which was declined with as much firmness,
although less emphasis, as on the earlier occasion. But he could not
reject the promotion offered him to the high rank of Ti-Tu, or Held
Marshal in the Chinese army, or churlishly refuse to receive the rare
and high dignity of the Yellow Jacket. The English reader has been
inclined on occasion to smile and sneer at that honour, but its origin
was noble, and the very conditions on which it was based ensured that
the holders should be very few in number.

The story of its origin will admit of being retold. When the
Manchus conquered China, in the middle of the seventeenth century,
they received material aid from a Chinese soldier named Wou Sankwei.
He was rewarded with the Viceroyalty of the whole of south-western
China, in which region he became supreme. After many years the
Manchus thought he posed with too great an air of independence, and
he was summoned to Peking to give an account of his stewardship.
But Wou Sankwei was too old to be caught by so simple a ruse.
He defied the Manchus, and established his authority throughout the
larger part of the country south of the Great River. The young and
afterwards illustrious Emperor Kanghi threw himself into the strucde
with ardour, and it contniued for many years, and devastated almost
as large an area as did the Taeping rebellion. Kanghi did not obtain
a decisive triumph until after the death of Wou Sankwei, when he
bestowed a yellow riding jacket and an ornament of peacock's feathers
for the rap on his principal lieutenants. He also decreed that this
decoration should be made a regular order, to be conferred only on

The Evei'- VictoriotLS Army. 123

generals who had led victorious armies against rebel forces. Gordon
was thus perfectly qualified to receive the order founded by the famous
Manchu contemporary of the Grand Monarque.

The Chinese Government also sent him six mandarin dresses in
the correct fashion for a commanding officer of the rank of Ti-Tu,
and a book explaining how they should be worn. Gordon said very
little about it, his only comment being : " Some of the buttons on
the mandarin hats are worth thirty or forty pounds. I am sorry
for it, as they cannot afford it over well ; it is, at any rate, very civil of
them." The two Empress Regents also struck a heavy gold medal
in his honour, the destination of which will be told hereafter, and Li
Hung Chang did everything possible to demonstrate the respect and
regard he entertained for his European colleague. That that was no
transitory feeling was well shown thirty-two years later, when the famous
Chinese statesman seized the occasion of his visit to London to place
wreaths on the statue and cenotaph of his old comrade in arms.
General Gordon valued the Yellow Jacket and the Gold Medal very
highly. When he gave up the medal for the cause of charity he felt its
loss keenly, and it became a phrase with him to signify the height of
self-sacrifice to say, "You must give up your medal." Prince Kung, in
a special and remarkable despatch to the British Minister, narrated
in detail the achievements of Gordon, and declared in graceful language
that " not only has he shown himself throughout both brave and
energetic, but his thorough appreciation of that important question, a
friendly understanding between China and foreign nations, is also deserv-
ing of the highest praise." The Minister was requested to bring these
facts to the notice of the British Government, and it was even suggested
by the Chinese Prince that some reward that Gordon would appreciate
at the hands of his own Sovereign should be conferred on him, and
would be hailed with satisfaction in China. If I add to this list
the sword of Chung Wang, captured from one of his lieutenants, and
presented afterwards by Gordon to the Duke of Cambridge, the rewards
of Gordon from the Chinese are fully catalogued. At the hands of
his own Government he received for his magnificent service a brevet
lieutenant-colonelcy, and somewhat later the Companionship of the Bath.

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 14 of 40)