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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containing the capital. They met with little or no opposition. They
had mystified their pursuers, and surprised the inhabitants of the
districts through which they passed. Having forced the Limming
Pass, the Taepings found no difficulty in occupying the towns
on the south-west border of Pechihli. The defeat of the Manchu
garrison in a pass that was considered almost impregnable gave the
Taepings the prestige of victory, and the towns opened their gates
one after another. They crossed the Hootoo River on a bridge of boats
which they constructed themselves, and then occupied the town of
Shinchow ; on 21st October they reached Tsing, about twenty miles
south of Tientsin and only one hundred from Peking ; but beyond this
point neither then nor at any other time did the rebels succeed in getting.
The forcing of the Limming Pass produced great confusion at Peking.
It was no longer a question of suffering subjects and disturbed provinces.
The capital of the Empire, the very person of the Emperor, was in
imminent danger of destruction at the hands of a ruthless foe. The
city was denuded of troops. Levies were hastily summoned from
Manchuria in order to defend the line of the Peiho and the approaches
to the capital. Had the Taepings shown better generalship there is no
saying but that they would have succeeded in capturing it, as the
Imperialists had left quite unguarded the approach by Chingting and
Paoting, and the capture of Peking would have sounded the knell of
the Manchu dynasty. But the Taepings did not seize the chance — if it
were one — and they were far from being in the best of spirits. They had
advanced far, but it looked as if it was into the lion's mouth. Their
march had been a remarkable one, but it had been attended with no
striking success. In their front was the Tientsin militia, strengthened
by a large if nondescript force, led by the Mongol chief Sankolinsin.
In their rear the levies of Hoonan, of the vast district that had suffered
from their exactions, were closing up, and soon they were closely be-
leaguered in a hastily-fortified camp at Tsinghai. In this they were
besieged from the end of October to the beginning of March 1S54.
The Imperial generals, afraid to risk an assault, hoped to starve them
out, and so they might have done had not Tien Wang sent a fresh army
to extricate this force from its peril. Then the retreat began, but, beset
by assailants from every side, it was slow and disastrous. The struggle
went on until March 1855, when Sankolinsin was able to declare that

TJie Taeping Rebellion. ji

not a Taeping remained north of the Yellow River. Only a very small
portion of the two armies sent to capture Peking ever returned to the
headquarters of Tien Wang.

While these events, and others that do not call for description as
being of minor importance, were in progress, symptoms of disintegration
were already beginning to reveal themselves in the camp at Nanking.
After its capture Tien Wang himself retired into the interior of his
palace and never afterwards appeared in public. All his time was passed
in the harem, and the opportunity was thus given his more ambitious
lieutenants to assert themselves. Tung Wang, the " Eastern King," be-
came principal Minister. He, too, claimed to have communion with
Heaven, and on celestial advice he began to get rid of those of his
comrades who opposed his schemes. He even summoned Tien Wang
to his presence and reproved him for his proceedings. A plot was then
formed against Tung Wang, and he was slain with three of his brothers,
in the presence of Tien Wang, by another of the Taeping chiefs. Nor
did the slaughter stop there, for it is alleged, although the numbers
must not be accepted literally, that 200,000 of his partisans — men, women,
and children — were massacred. These internal dissensions threatened
to break up the Taeping confederacy, and no doubt they would have
done so but for the appearance of the most remarkable man associated
with the movement, and one of the most heroic figures in China's

A young officer, rejoicing in the innumerable Chinese name of Li,
had attracted Tung Wang's favourable notice, and was by him entrusted
wdth a small command. It will be more convenient to speak of him by
his subsequent title bi Chung Wang, or the " Faithful King." He dis-
tinguished himself in his first enterprise by defeating a large Imperial army
besieging Chinkiang, and in relieving the garrison when on the point of
surrender. But while engaged on this task the Imperialists closed in
on his rear and cut off his retreat back to Nanking, whither Tien Wang
hastily summoned him to return. He endeavoured to make his way along
the northern bank, but was checked at Loohoo by the ex-Triad Chang
Kwoliang, the same who deserted the Taepings in Kwangsi. Chang
had crossed the river to oppose him, and Chung Wang, hastily convey-
ing his army over the river, fell upon and destroyed the weakened force
that the Imperial general had left there, under General Chi, who
committed suicide. Chang Kwoliang crossed after him, but only to
suffer defeat, and Chung Wang made his way into Nanking. He then
attacked the main Imperial army before its walls, under the Emperor's
generalissimo Heang Yung, and drove it out of its entrenchments.
Hean" took his defeat so much to heart that he also committed suicide,

72 The Life of Go7'don.

but Chang Kwoliang made a supreme effort to retrieve the day, and
succeeded in retaking all the lost positions, with the exception of the
Yashua Gate of Nankins:.

While these events were in progress in the Taeping capital, some
events that must be briefly referred to happened on a different scene.
The Triads, aided by the mob, rose in .Shanghai, overcame the
Emperor's officers and garrison, and on 7th September 1S53 obtained
complete mastery of the native city. The foreign settlement was placed
in a state of siege, the men-of-war covered the approaches to the
factories, and a volunteer corps was carefully organised and constantly
employed. Then an Imperial army re-appeared on the scene, and laid
siege to Shanghai, but it was conducted with no skill, and the situation
remained unchanged. After twelve months' delay the French Admiral,
Laguerre, decided to help the Imperialists, and he began to bombard
the walls in December 1854. He combined with them in an assault,
and 400 French sailors and the Imperialists attacked the walls which
had been breached. The assault ended disastrously, for the rebels
defended the houses, and at last drove back the assailants with
much loss. The pressure of famine compelled the besieged some
months later to make a sortie, when the Imperialists recovered the town.
A similar rising, with a similar result, occurred at Amoy. The insur-
gents caused a great loss of life and property, but in the end the
authorities gained the upper hand. These events compelled the
foreign consuls and their Governments to reconsider their policy, which
had been one of sympathy towards the Taepings, and gradually the
conviction became universal that it would be well for civilization and
trade if a speedy end were put to the Taeping rebellion. But for our
own quarrel and war with the central Government these views would
have borne fruit in acts at an earlier date than they did.

During the campaign of 185 8 the Taepings more than held their
own through the courage and activity shown by Chung Wang. He
relieved the town of Ganking when closely pressed by Tseng Kwofan,
and although he could not prevent a fresh beleaguerment of Nanking, it
caused him no apprehension because the Emperor's generals were well
known to have no intention of attacking. Notwithstanding this, it was
clearly foreseen that in time Nanking must fall by starvation. In these
straits Chung Wang proved the saviour of his party. The city was in-
vested on three sides ; only one remained open for any one to carry out
the news of Tien ^V ang's necessities. In this moment of peril there was
a general reluctance to quit the besieged town, but unless someone did,
and that quickly, the place was doomed. In this supreme moment
Chung Wang offered to go himself. At first the ])roposal was received

The Taeping Rebellion. 'jt^

with a chorus of disapproval, but at last, when he went to the door of
Tien Wang's palace and beat the gong which lay there for those who
claimed justice, he succeeded in overcoming the opi)osition to his plan,
and in impressing upon his audience the real gravity of the situation.
His request was granted, and having nominated trusty men to the
command during his absence, he left by the southern gate. A few days
later and Tseng's last levies constructed their fortified camp in front of
it. The Emperor's generals unfortunately reverted to their old dilatory
measures, because they failed to realise the importance with which the
possession of Nanking still invested the Taepings. Without that city
they would have been nothing but a band of brigands, who could easily
have been dispersed. With it they could claim the status of a separate
dynasty. Yet the capture of Nanking was put off until the last act of
all. These sapient leaders, whose military knowledge was antiquated,
acted with an indifference to the most obvious considerations, that
would have been ludicrous if it had not been a further injury to a
suffering people. In 1858 their apathy was such that it not merely
saved Nanking but played the whole game into the hands of Chung

That chief succeeded in collecting a small force, with which he at
once began to harass Tseng's army. By transferring his army rapidly
from one side of the river to the other, he succeeded in supplying his
deficiency in numbers ; but with all his activity he could make no
impression on the mass of his opponents. He even got the worst of it
in several skirmishes, but by a supreme effort he succeeded in over-
powering the Imperial force north of the river at Poukou, and thus
relieved the pressure on Nanking. But this was only momentary, and
after a doubtful and wearisome campaign throughout the year 1859, the
situation again became one of great gravity for the besieged Taepings
who were now confined to Nanking and a few other towns in the
Yangtse valley.

In this extremity Chung Wang conceived a fresh plan for extricat-
ing his cause from the difticulties that beset it. By January i860 all
Chung Wang's arrangements were completed. He distributed con-
siderable sums of money among his men to put them in good humour,
and then set forth. His first movements were directed to misleading
his enemy as to his real object, and having succeeded in this he
marched as rapidly as possible towards the important harbour of Hang-
chow, in the bay of the same name, south of Shanghai. On igth
March he succeeded in capturing the Chinese city, but the Tartar
portion held out, and a relieving army compelled Chung Wang to
retire. What seemed an unredeemed calamity proved a stroke of

74 l^fi^ Life of G 07' don.

good fortune, for the Imperialists had sent their best troops to pursue
him, and thus materially weakened the force before Nanking. Chung
Wang saw his chance, and while the Imperialists were rejoicing in
Hangchow at its recovery, he hastened back by forced marches, and
fell upon the besieging army. In the desperate engagement that
followed 5C00 Imperialists were slain, and the remainder were driven
ignominiously from the field. Thus, at the blackest moment of their
fortunes, did Chung Wang succeed in delivering his kinsmen who had
so long been shut up in Nanking. This siege had then continued
with more or less interruption for seven years.

Nor did Chung Wang's success stop here. He fought a battle at
Tayan with his old adversary Chang Kwoliang, and defeated him
with a loss of 10,000 men. At the height of the engagement Chang
Kwoliang was drowned while crossing a canal, and this decided the
battle. Encouraged by these successes, and with increased forces —
for most of the prisoners he took were incorporated in his army —
Chung Wang assumed the offensive, and after winning no fewer than
three regular engagements, he succeeded in capturing the important
city of Soochow, on the Grand Canal, and this became his chief
quarters during the remainder of this long struggle. By these successes
he obtained fresh supplies, and commanded the great and hitherto
little touched resources of the wealthy province of Kiangsu. It was
thus that he was brought into the neighbourhood of Shanghai, and
made those attempts to acquire possession of the Chinese city which
were set forth in the last chapter, and which were the true cause of
the inception of the foreign, or foreign-trained force, that began with

After his repulse at Shanghai, Chung Wang was recalled to Nan-
king. He went reluctantly, leaving Hoo Wang, " the Protecting King,"
as his deputy at Soochow. He found there everything in confusion,
and that Tien Wang, instead of laying in rice for a fresh siege, was
absorbed in his devotion and amusements, while the other chiefs
were engaged in plundering their own subjects. Dissatisfied with
what he saw at Nanking, Chung Wang again took the field, and
transferred the scene of hostilities to the province of Kiangsi, but
although he showed great activity, and marched Soo miles, he gained
little, and, indeed, was defeated on one or two occasions. Nor could
he save Ganking, which, after being besieged for three years, surrendered
to Tseng Kwotsiuen, and thus all hope of succour from the west, or
of retreat there, in the last resort, was removed from the hard-beset
garrison of Nanking. As some set-off to this reverse, Chung AV'ang
captured the ports of Ningpo and Hangchow, after a gallant defence

The Taeping Rebellion. 75

by a small Manchu garrison. The Taepings could scarcely now hope
for durable success, but their capacity for inflicting an enormous
amount of injury was evidently not destroyed. Chung Wang's energy
and military skill alone sustained their cause, but the lovers of rapine
and turbulence flocked in their thousands to his standard.

In the Yangtse valley — in fact, wherever Chung Wang was not- -the
Taepings met with many reverses that counterbalanced these successes.
Several Chinese armies approached Nanking from different sides, and
Tien Wang in a state of panic summoned Chung W^ang, his only
champion, back to his side. That warrior obeyed the summons, leaving
INIow Wang in charge of Soochow, but he could do no good. Pic
found nothing but disorder at the Taeping capital, and no troops with
which he could venture to assume the offensive against the powerful
army, in numbers at all events, that the two Tsengs had drawn round
Nanking. In this position his troubles were increased by the suspicion
of Tien Wang, who deprived him of all his honours, and banished him
to the province of Anhui, adjacent to both Kiangsi and Kiangsu, and
joined with them in the same viceroyalty. This order to depart was a
relief to Chung Wang, who was thus able to complete his own measures
for the defence of Soochow and the other places along the Canal that
had fallen to his arms. He saw clearly that the success of the foreigners
in keeping him back at a distance of thirty miles from Shanghai, and
in expelling him from Ningpo, signified his being shut in just as
effectively on the east, as he already was on the west by the fall of
every place except Nanking, and by the miserable inefficiency of the
garrison in that place. He may have really despaired, but this Chinese
Frederick was resolved, if he could, to break his chains. Unfortunately
for him, a new and more formidable antagonist than any he had met
appeared on the scene at this juncture, in the person of Gordon.

This summary of the progress and nature of the Taeping rebellion
up to the 25th March 1863 when Gordon assumed the command will
make clear what follows to the general reader. It M'ould be as great a
mistake to minimise the fighting military strength of the Taepings as it
would be to exaggerate it. There was a moment, years before Gordon
came on the scene, when the Imperial commanders by a little energy
and promptitude might have stamped out the rebellion ; but having
missed the opportunity the military skill and daring of Chung Wang
had revived the Taeping cause, and made it more formidable than ever
from a mihtary point of view. The blunders of the Imperial com-
manders precluded any confidence as to their superior numbers and
resources effecting their natural result, and although Gordon himself
declared that the Taeping cause was a lost one before he assumed the

76 The Life of Gordon.

command, no cause could be pronounced irretrievable with a leader so
expert and resolute as Chung Wang, and opponents so incapable and
craven as his were. But another thing was certainly incontestable, and
that was that the Taepings could not in any sense be regarded as
patriots. Their regular mode of conduct stamped them at once as
un discriminating plunderers of all, whether Chinese or Manchu, who
had the misfortune to fall into their hands, and their acts of cruelty
surpassed description and even belief. Some instances of the massacres
they perpetrated have been mentioned, but these were only a few out
of the many that stained, or rather characterised, their usual proceed-
ings. It will suffice to say that their ordinary way of dealing with
their prisoners was to crucify them, and there will then be no difficulty
in accepting the conclusion that the Chinese population thoroughly
detested them, and regarded them as a scourge rather than as

Nor does a closer examination of the system of administration set
up at Nanking by the leader Tien Wang raise one's opinion of the
cause or its promoters. The foreign missionaries long thought that the
Taepings were the agents of Christianity, and that their success would
lead to the conversion of China. That faith died hard, but at last in
i860 a missionary had to confess that after visiting Nanking "he could
find nothing of Christianity but its name falsely applied to a system of
revolting idolatry," and out of that and other irresistible testimony
resulted the conclusion that the conversion of China by the agency of
the Taepings was a delusion. The missionaries were not alone in
their belief among foreigners. The Consuls and their Governments
entertained a hope that the Taepings might establish an administration
which would be less difficult to deal with than they had found the
existing one at Peking. They attempted to, and did in an informal
manner, establish some relations with Tien Wang. They acquainted
him with the articles of the Treaty of Tientsin, and they requested him
to conform with its conditions. On a second occasion Sir George
Bonham, our head representative in China, even honoured him with a
visit ; but closer acquaintance in the case of our diplomatists, as of the
missionaries, stripped the Taepings of the character with which interested
persons would wish they had been invested. From the first feeling of
friendship and sympathy there consequently ensued a slow but steady
revulsion, until at last the general feeling was that the Taepings were
little more than marauders, and as such a scourge to the country and
a standing injury to the trade and interests of Europeans. Then came
the desire to see the rising suppressed, and finally the disillusionment
culminated in active measures being taken to assist the Imperial

The Taeping Rebellion. yy

Government in suppressing a rebellion which had defied all its efforts
for more than ten years. Of these measures the appointment of Major
Gordon to the command of the Ever Victorious Army was both the
last and the most effectual in producing the desired result.



The appointment of any English officer would have led to some im-
provement in the direction of the Chinese Imperial forces assembled for
the suppression of the Taeping rebellion ; but the nature of the opera-
tions to be carried out, which were exclusively the capture of a number
of towns strongly stockaded and protected by rivers and canals, rendered
it specially necessary that that officer should be an engineer. In
addition to the advantages of his scientific training. Major Gordon
enjoyed the benefit of the preliminary course he had gone through
under General Staveley. He had seen the Taepings fight, and some-
thing also of the defence and capture of their positions. He had also
thoroughly mastered the topographical features of the region in and
beyond which he was about to conduct military operations. There
is little doubt that he assumed the command with a plan of campaign
already decided upon in his brain. The Taepings with whom he had
to deal derived their power and importance from the possession of Soo-
chow, and from their access to several ports whence they obtained arms
and ammunition. Therefore the capture of that city and the cutting
off" of their supplies represented his principal objects. Very much had
to be accomplished before Soochow could be even approached, and
the main object of Gordon's first campaign was the capture of Quinsan,
which he saw would be far more suitable as headquarters for him
and his force than the existing one at Sungkiang. Even before that
could be attempted many matters had to be arranged. Not only had
Major Gordon to relieve more than one beleaguered loyal garrison, but
he had to establish his authority over his own force, which was on the
verge of mutiny and clamouring for the return of Burgevine. His own
opinion of that force was given in the following letter to a military
friend : —

" I hope you do not think that I have a magnificent army. You
never did see such a rabble as it was ; and although I think I have im-
proved it, it is still sadly wanting. Now both officers and men, although

The Ever Victorious ylrmy. 79

ragged and perhaps slightly disreputable, are in capital order and well

Before entering on these matters the following letter to his mother
will be read with interest, as showing what was in Gordon's mind at the
time he assumed the command. The letter was written on 24th March
1863, the day before he rode over to Sungkiang to take up his

" I am afraid you will be much ve.xed at my having taken the com-
mand of the Sungkiang force, and that I am now a mandarin. I have
taken the step on consideration. I think that anyone who contributes
to putting down this rebellion fulfils a humane task, and I also think
tends a great deal to open China to civilization. I will not act rashly,
and I trust to be able soon to return to England ; at the same time, I
will remember your and my father's wishes, and endeavour to remain as
short a time as possible. I can say that, if 1 had not accepted the com-
mand, I believe the force would have been broken up and the rebellion
gone on in its misery for years. I trust this will not now be the case,
and that I may soon be able to comfort you on this subject. You must
not fret on this matter. I think I am doing a good service. ... I
keep your likeness before me, and can assure you and my father that I
will not be rash, and that as soon as I can conveniently, and wdth due
regard to the object I have in view, I will return home."

Major Gordon rode over to Sungkiang, situated on the line of the
thirty-mile radius from Shanghai, on 25th March, and the following
morning he inspected his force. He delivered a brief address, stating
that there was no intention to dismiss any of them, and that so long
as they behaved well he would carefully uphold their rights and interests.
'J'hese words had a tranquillising effect, and Major Gordon's assumption
of the command might be describedas being then ratified by the Ever
Victorious Army. The good he effected was very nearly undone two
■days later by the civil magistrate hanging some soldiers for marauding.
After the affair looked like becoming serious, Gordon succeeded in
pacifying his men and restoring order. In this state of affairs it was
most desirable that no time should be lost in resuming active opera-
tions, and the I'aeping successes at Taitsan and Fushan rendered them
doubly necessarv.

The first task entrusted to Major Gordon was the relief of Chanzu,
-which was closely assailed by the Taepings and believed to be on the
point of surrendering. Chanzu lies some distance south of Fushan and
west of Taitsan, and its garrison at this time was composed of Taepings
who had deserted their comrades and joined the Imperial forces.
Several attempts had been made to relieve it, but without success, and

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 9 of 40)