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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the place. Here Admiral Protet was killed; he was among 500 men,
and was the only one struck. The town was a wretched affair, and a
good many Chang-mows escaped. These Chang-mows are very funny
people; they always run when attacked. They are ruthlessly cruel,
and have a system of carrying off small boys under the hope of training
them up as rebels. We always found swarms of these boys who had
been taken from their parents (whom the rebels had killed) in the

" I saved one small creature who had fallen into the ditch in trying
to escape, for which he rewarded me by destroying my coat with his
muddy paws in clinging to me. I started soon after the attack for
Cholin, and got there on the i Sth. The rebels had made a sortie since
my departure, and had got into a pretty mess. Willes let them come
up and then advanced on them ; over sixty were killed, and several
taken prisoners. The General then came. We got our guns in position
during the night, opened fire next morning, and assaulted at seven.
The i)lace was miserable and poor. The Armstrong guns, which
enfiladed one face, did great execution."

The fruits of these successes were lost by the signal overthrow and
practical annihilation of a large Chinese army at Taitsan. One of
General Staveley's detachments was cut off", and with his communications
threatened he found himself compelled to abandon Kahding, and to
retire towards Shanghai. Tsingpu had also to be abandoned, and the
garrison suffered some loss in effecting its retreat. Of the first results
of General Staveley's campaign there thus remained very little, and
it was only in the autumn that these places were retaken, and the
campaign against the Taepings in the Shanghai districts continued with
varying fortune throughout the remainder of the year 1S62 and the early
months of 1S63.

While these military events were in progress Major Gordon, who
was raised to the rank of Major in the army in December 1862 for his
services in China, had been trusted with the congenial task, and one for
which he was pre-eminently well suited, of surveying and mapping the
whole of the region for thirty miles. This work, necessary in itself for
many reasons, proved of incalculable value to him in the operations
which he eventually undertook and carried out to a successful issue
against the rebels. His own letters show how thoroughly he fulfilled
his instructions, and how his surveys ended in his complete mastery
of the topography of the region between the Grand Canal, the sea, and
the Yangtsekiang : —

" I have been now in every town and village in the thirty miles'

TJie China War. 53

radius. The country is the same everywhere — a dead flat, with in-
numerable creeks and bad pathways. The people have now settled down
quiet again, and I do not anticipate the rebels will ever come back.
They are rapidly on the decline, and two years ought to bring about
the utter suppression of the revolt. I do not write about what we saw,
as it amounts to nothing. There is nothing of any interest in China ;
if you have seen one village you have seen all the country. I have
really an immensity to do. It will be a good thing if the Government
support the propositions which are made to the Chinese.

"The weather here is delightful — a fine cold, clear air which is quite
invigorating after the summer heats. There is very good pheasant-
shooting in the half-populated districts, and some quail at uncertain
times. It is extraordinary to see the quantities of fishing cormorants
there are in the creeks. These cormorants are in flocks of forty and
fifty, and the owner in a small canoe travels about with them. They
fish three or four times a day, and are encouraged by the shouts of their
owners to dive. I have scarcely ever seen them come up without a fish
in their beaks, which they swallow, but not for any distance, for there is
a ring to prevent it going down altogether. They get such dreadful
attacks of mumps, their throats being distended by the fish, which are
alive, when the birds seem as if they were pouter pigeons. They are
hoisted into the boats and then are very sea-sick. Would you consider
the fish a dainty ? "

And again he writes about the Taepings, who were not in his eyes
"a people nobly struggling to be free," but a horde of ruthless

" We had a visit from the marauding Taepings the other day.
They came close down in small parties to the settlement and burnt several
houses, driving in thousands of inhabitants. We went against them and
drove them away, but did not kill many. They beat us into fits in get-
ting over the country, which is intersected in every way with ditches,
swamps, etc. You can scarcely conceive the crowds of peasants who
come into Shanghai when the rebels are in the neighbourhood —
upwards of 15,000, I should think, and of every size and age — many
strapping fellows who could easily defend themselves come running in
with old women and children.

" The people on the confines are suffering very greatly, and are in fact
dying of starvation. It is most sad this state of affairs, and our Govern-
ment really ought to put the rebellion down. Words could not depict
the horrors these people suffer from the rebels, or describe the utter
desert they have made of this rich province. It is all very well to talk
of non-intervention, and I am not particularly sensitive, nor are our

54 The Life of Gordon.

soldiers generallyso,but certainly we are all impressed with the utter rnisery
and wretchedness of these poor people. . . . In the midst of those terrible
times the British and foreign merchants behaved nobly and gave great
relief, while the Chinese merchants did not lag behind in acts of charity.
The hardest heart would have been touched at the utter misery of these
poor harmless people, for whatever may be said of their rulers, no one
can deny but that the Chinese peasantry are the most obedient, quiet,
and industrious people in the world."

The propositions referred to in the former of these two letters were that
the services of Major Gordon should be lent to the Chinese Govern-
ment for the suppression of the Taeping rebellion, that he should assume
the command of an Anglo-Chinese legion of which the nucleus already
existed, and that he might enlist the services of a certain number of our
own officers. Considerable delay took place in the execution of this
project, as it was necessary to send to Europe for the necessary authority ;
and another explanation was given subsequently to the effect that
Gordon insisted on finishing his survey first. But Sir Charles Staveley,
who nominated Major Gordon for the work, has effectually disposed of
this latter statement by declaring that the former was the true and only
cause. At length these propositions were sanctioned, and on 26th March
1863 Major Gordon proceeded to Sungkiang, a town west of Shanghai
and south of Tsingpu, to take over the command of the Chinese force,
which had already been named the Ever Victorious Army, and which in
his hands justified its name.

Before closing this chapter it will be well to give some account of
the origin of this force, and of the more important events that preceded
Gordon's ai)pointment to the command. As far back as April i860 the
Viceroy of the Two Kiang provinces had begged the English and
French representatives to lend him military assistance in dealing with
the rebels. The request was not complied with, but when some of the
richest native merchants of Shanghai, with one Takee at their head,
formed themselves into a patriotic association, and bound themselves to
provide the funds required to raise a European-led force, no impedi-
ments were placed in their way. In July 1S60 the services of two
American adventurers who had had some military experience in Central
America and elsewhere were enlisted and taken into the pay of this
merchants' guild. Their names were Ward and Burgevine, and they
were both adventurers of an unscrupulous and unattractive type. In
addition to excellent pay, they were promised handsome money rewards
for the capture of specified places, and what spoil there was to take
should be theirs. Such a prospect was very inviting to the bold spirits
of a great port like Shanghai, with its trading ships from every quarter of

The China War. 55

the world, and they succeeded in recruiting about 100 Europeans and
200 Manilla men or Spanish half-breeds.

In order to test the quality of this force it was decided to attack
Sungkiang; and in July, only a week or so after it was organised,
Ward led his somewhat motley band against that place. The result
was unfavourable, as his attack v/as repulsed with some loss. Nothing
daunted. Ward collected some more Manilla men and renewed the
attack. He succeeded in capturing one of the gates, and in holding it
until an Imperial army of 10,000 men arrived, when the town was
carried by storm. Having thus proved its mettle. Ward's force became
very popular, and it was increased by many fresh recruits, chiefly
Greeks and Italians. It also was strengthened by the addition of some
artillery, two six-pounder and later two eighteen-pounder guns.

The Chinese merchants then offered Ward and his quarter-master
Burgevine a large reward for the capture of Tsingpu ; and their legion,
accompanied by a Chinese force of 10,000 men, who were, however, only
to look on while it did the fighting, accordingly marched on that place.
The attack made during the night of 2nd August resulted in a most
disastrous repulse, most of the Europeans being either killed or
wounded. Ward himself receiving a severe wound in the jaw. He
renewed the attack with fresh men and two eighteen-pounders three
weeks later; but after bombarding the place for seven days, he was
attacked by the Taeping hero Chung Wang, and routed, with the loss of
his guns and military stores. It was on this occasion that Chung
Wang, following up his success, and doubly anxious to capture Shanghai
because this new and unexpected force was organised there, attacked
that town, and was only repulsed by the English and French troops
who lined its walls.

This reverse at Tsingpu destroyed the reputation of Ward's force,
and for several months he remained discredited and unemployed. In
March 1861 he reappeared at Sungkiang, at the head of sixty or seventy
Europeans whom he had recruited for the Imperial cause ; but at that
moment the policy of the foreign Consuls had undergone a change in
favour of the Taepings, and Ward was arrested as a disturber of the peace.
Perhaps a more serious offence was that the high pay he offered and
prospect of loot had induced nearly thirty British sailors to desert their
ships. He was released on his claiming that he was a Chinese subject,
and also on his sending orders to his colleague Burgevine to return
the troops they had enlisted. Burgevine thought he saw in this a
chance of personal distinction, and before disbanding the men he made
with them another attack on Tsingpu. This attack, like its two pre-
decessors, was repulsed with heavy loss, and the original Ward force

56 The Life of Gordon.

was thus finally discredited. It should be borne in mind, to distinguish
it from what followed, that it was a mercenary force of European and
Spanish half-breeds, without a single Chinese in it.

In September 1861 these two men altered their proceedings, and
gave a new turn to the whole question. As it was impossible for them
to recruit foreigners, they induced Takee and his associates to provide
the funds for a native Chinese force, which they undertook to train and
organise. In this task they made considerable progress, and with a
view to making it popular with the Chinese, and also to give the men
confidence, this new force was named, probably by Takee, the Chun
Chen Chiin or Ever Victorious Army. This proud title was given long
before the claim to it was justified, but its subsequent appropriate-
ness has buried in oblivion the slender claim it possessed to it on its

By the end of January 1S62 Ward had succeeded in training two
regiments of 1000 men each, and with these he captured Quanfuling
and 200 boats in the rear of the Taeping force, which attacked
Shanghai for a third time in that month. When the English and
French forces assumed the offensive before the arrival of Sir Charles
Staveley, part of Ward's Corps accompanied them in the attack on
Kachiaou. It led the attack, and behaved extremely well, thus giving
rise to very favourable anticipations as to what a properly-trained
Chinese army might do.

In a second action at Tscedong the force maintained the reputation
it had gained. The Chinese fought with great bravery, and the
difficulty, in fact, was in keeping them back. The English general
reviewed them after this encounter, and declared himself much
impressed with their appearance. Representations were made at
Peking, and on i6th March 1862 an Imperial decree gave the first
public recognition of the Ever Victorious Army.

Although reverses followed, the Corps maintained the reputation it
had gained for steadiness and discipline. Under General Staveley at
Wongkadza it acted well and lost heavily, and in all the subsequent
movements of that officer it took a prominent part. When Tsingpu
was captured, as already described, one of Ward's regiments was left in
it as a garrison, but on the evacuation of that place in consequence of
the return of Chung Wang with fresh and more numerous forces, it
narrowly escaped annihilation. It was then that the Taeping general
named them in scornful irony, " Cha-Yang-Kweitser," or "Sham Foreign
Devils," the point of the sarcasm being that these troops wore an
i'.uropean costume.

During the summer of 1862, when the heat rendered active opera-

The China War. 57

tions impossible, everything was done to increase both the numbers and
the efficiency of the Ever. Victorious Army. By the month of July its
strength had been raised to 5000 men, the commissioned officers
being all Europeans except one Chinese, named Wongepoo, who had
been given a commission for special gallantry by Admiral Hope.
^Vard was in chief command, and Colonel Forrester and Burgevine
were his first and second lieutenants. When the weather became a
little cooler in August, it was determined to utilise this force for the
recapture of Tsingpu, which was taken at the second assault on the
9th of that month, although not without heavy loss in officers and
men. Six weeks later the important Taeping position at Tseki, across
the Hangchow Bay and not far distant from Ningpo, was attacked
by Ward and a party of English blue-jackets. The operation was
perfectly successful, but Ward was shot in the stomach and died the
next day. His loss was a very considerable one, for, as Gordon
said, "he managed both the force and the mandarins very ably."
Colonel Forrester should have succeeded to the command, but he
declined the post, which then devolved upon Burgevine.

After a brief space the services of Captain Holland of the Royal
Marine Light Infantry were lent to Burgevine in the capacity of Chief
of the staff, and as this was done at the suggestion of the Futai Li —
since famous to Europeans as Li Hung Chang — it did not conduce to
greater harmony between him and Burgevine, for their antagonism had
already become marked. An occasion soon offered to fan this feeling
to a flame. A Chinese army under Li and General Ching advanced
to attack a Taeping position near Tsingpu, at the same time that
Burgevine at the head of his corps assailed it from the other side.
The brunt of the fighting fell on the latter, but when Li issued his
bulletin he claimed all the credit of the victory, and totally ignored
Burgevine and his men. Burgevine did not accept this rebuff meekly,
and his peremptory manner offended the Chinese. The breach was
widened by the distrust many of the Chinese merchants as well as
officials felt as to his loyalty, and sooti it was seen that the funds so
freely supplied to Ward would not be forthcoming in his case.

Burgevine's character has been described in the following sentence
by Gordon himself: —

" He was a man of large promises and few works. His popularity
was great among a certain class. He was extravagant in his generosity,
and as long as he had anything would divide it with his so-called
Iriends, but never was a man of any administrative or military talent,
and latterly, through the irritation caused by his unhealed wound
and other causes, he was subject to violent paroxysms of anger.

58 The Life of Gordon.

which rendered precarious the safety of any man who tendered to
him advice that might be distasteful. He was extremely sensitive of
his dignity."

The situation between the Chinese authorities and Burgevine soon
became so strained that the former presented a formal complaint to
General Staveley, and begged him to remove Burgevine. This, as the
English commander pointed out, was for obvious reasons beyond his
power, but he made representations to his Government, and suggested
that an English officer should be lent to the Chinese, and he nominated
Gordon as the best qualified for the work. Pending the arrival ot
the required authority, the Chinese, assisted by Burgevine's own im-
petuosity, brought their relations with him to a climax. The merchant
Takee withheld the pay of the force ; Burgevine was first ordered to
proceed with his troops to Nanking, and then, on consenting, the order
was withdrawn ; some weeks later a fresh order to the same effect was
issued, and Burgevine demanded the payment of all arrears before he
would move, and thus Li's object of exposing Burgevine as a dis-
obedient officer to the Government that employed him was attained.

The Ever Victorious Army, excited by the absence of its pay, and
worked upon by the exhortations of its chief, was on the point of
mutiny, and Burgevine hastened to Shanghai to obtain by force rather
than persuasion the arrears. On 4th January 1863 he saw Takee, a
violent scene ensued, and Burgevine used violence. Not only did he
strike Takee, but he carried off the treasure necessary to pay his men.
Such conduct could not be upheld or excused. Li Hung Chang made
the strongest complaint. Burgevine was dismissed the Chinese service,
and General Staveley forwarded the notice to him with a quiet intima-
tion that it would be well to give up his command without making a
disturbance. Burgevine complied with this advice, handed over the
command to Captain Holland, and came back to Shanghai on 6th of
January. He published a defence of his conduct, and expressed his
regret for having struck Takee.

Captain Holland was thus the third commander of the Ever
Victorious Army, and a set of regulations was drawn up between Li
Hung Chang and General Staveley as to the conduct and control of the
force. It was understood that Captain Holland's appointment was only
tem])orary until the decision of the Government as to Gordon's
nomination arrived, but this arrangement allowed of the corps
again taking the field, for although it cost the Chinese ;^3o,ooo a
month, it had done nothing during the last three months of the year
1862. Early in February 1S63, therefore, Captain Holland, at the
head of 2,300 men, including a strong force of artillery — 600 men and

The China War. 59

twenty-two guns and mortars — was directed to attack Taitsan, an
important place about fifty miles north-east of Shanghai. An
Imperialist army of nearly 10,000 men acted in conjunction with
it. The affair was badly managed and proved most disastrous.

After a short bombardment a breach was declared to be practicable,
and the ladder and storming parties were ordered to the assault.
Unfortunately, the reconnoitring of the Taeping position had been
very carelessly done, and the attacking parties were checked by a wet
ditch, twenty feet wide and six feet deep, of which nothing had been
seen. Situated only forty yards from the wall of the town, and with-
out any means of crossing it, although some few did by throwing
across a ladder, the storming party stood exposed to a terrific fire.
Captain Holland ordered a retreat, but it was not managed any
better than the attack. The light guns were removed too quickly, and
the heavy ones were stuck so fast in the mud that they could not be
removed at all. The Taepings attacked in their turn, and the greatest
confusion prevailed, during which the survivors of the larger half of
the Ever Victorious Army escaped in small detachments back to
Sungkiang. Twenty European officers were killed or wounded, besides
300 Chinese privates. Captain Holland exposed himself freely, but
this, his only action in independent command, resulted in complete
and unqualified failure. Gordon himself summed up the causes of
this serious and discouraging reverse : —

" The causes of the failure were the too cheap rate at which the rebels
were held. The force had hitherto fought with the allies with them
(except at Tsingpu). They now had to bear the brunt of the fighting
themselves, the mistake of not having provided bridges in spite of the
mandarin's information, and the too close proximity of the heavy guns
to the walls, and the want of cover they had, and finally the withdrawal
of the lighter guns before the heavy guns, whose removal they should
have covered. There is little doubt that the rebels had been warned
by persons in Shanghai of the intended attack, and that several
foreigners, who had been dismissed by Captain Holland, were with
the rebels defending the breach. As may be imagined, Burgevine's
removal had caused considerable feeling among his acquaintances, who
were not sorry to see the first expedition of the force under an English
officer fail, being in hopes that the command would again revert to

This reverse occurred on 13th February, and no further steps of any
consequence were taken until the appointment of Major Gordon, which
at last was sanctioned in the latter portion of March, about a week
before ill-health compelled General Staveley to resign his command in

6o The Life of Gordon.

China. That officer was connected with the Gordon family, his sister,
a most amiable and sympathetic lady, being Lady Gordon, widow of
the late Sir Henry Gordon. As far back as May 1861 — that is, prior to
most of the events described in this chapter — Gordon's sensitiveness
about his family connection with the commanding officer in China had
impelled him to write this letter : —

"I was much put out in Henry's writing, and I think hinting he
could do something for me, and I went to Staveleyand told him so. It
is the bother of one's life to be trying after the honours of the profes-
sion, and it has grown in late years into a regular trade — everyone uses
private interest."

When Gordon gave this early manifestation of his independent spirit
he was little more than twenty-eight years of age, but it should certainly
be noted as showing that in one respect he was very little changed in
his later years from what he was in his youth.

After these reverses in February nothing more was attempted until
Major Gordon arrived at Sungkiang on 25th March 1863 to take over
the command of the force. It is to be hoped that the last few pages
have made clear what that force was like. In the first place, it had
been one composed entirely of Europeans, a band somewhat resem-
bling those that have set up and cast down the mushroom republics
that separate the conquests of Pizarro from those of Cortes. That force
achieved nothing and had an ignominious end. It was succeeded by
the larger force of drilled Chinese, to which was given the name of the
Ever Victorious Army. Although these Chinese showed far more
courage than might have been expected of them, none of their leaders —
Ward, Burgevine, or Holland — seemed able to turn their good qualities
to any profitable purpose. They were as often defeated as successful,
and at the very moment of Gordon's assuming the command the defeat
of Captain Holland at Taitsan, and a subsidiary reverse of Major
Ta]i)) at Fushan, had reduced their morale to the lowest point, and even
justified a belief that for military purposes this force was nearly, if not
(juite, worthless.



In order to bring before the reader the magnitude of Gordon's
achievements in China it is necessary to describe briefly the course
of the Taeping rebellion, and to show the kind of opponents over
whom he was destined to obtain so glorious and decisive a victory.
But as this would be to tell a thrice-told tale, I content myself with
giving in an abridged form the account I prepared from the papers

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 7 of 40)