With the Allies to Pekin: A Tale of the Relief of the Legations
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An attempt was made to send them fresh ammunition. Captain Ollivant of the Chinese regiment was killed in a gallant attempt to draw off the line of fire with some ammunition mules, and the Americans were forced to lie where they were until nightfall, when they fell back to the arsenal with their wounded and dead, which amounted to just one–half of their whole number. In the course of the day Lieutenant Phillimore of the Barfleur had managed to get out to them with a few blue–jackets, and had assisted them materially, both in holding their position and in carrying back to the arsenal those who had fallen. Major Pereira of the 1st Chinese Regiment, who was next to them, went out to them twice to bring in their wounded. He was hit himself in so doing. His regiment had nineteen casualties, including two officers.
When the bombardment had somewhat weakened the Chinese fire, General Fukushima ordered the general advance. Unfortunately he received word that his men had effected a lodgment on the city wall, and had actually got inside the town, and he therefore requested General Dorward to stop the fire of the British guns, which was, of course, instantly done. Had they been kept in action half an hour longer the loss to the Japanese would have been considerably less, for the gunners had the exact range, and were causing great destruction. However, the whole line of attack pushed forward and took shelter in the houses outside the walls, and as soon as it was discovered that the Japanese were not in the city, all the guns again opened fire. This was maintained steadily all the afternoon, the fire of the large naval guns being particularly accurate. While the Americans were being retired from their advanced position in the evening these guns were ordered to sweep the Chinese barricades and line of defended houses, from which Colonel Liscum?s force had been so much harried all day. The Americans were lying about three hundred yards from this fringe, and if they attempted to move they were in great danger of being hit, but the fire of the British guns was so accurate that the retiral was carried out without one casualty.
Early in the afternoon a company of marines was ordered to reinforce the Japanese and French, and the Austrian marines went with them. The fire was so heavy and accurate that a number of blue–jackets under Captain Beattie hurried forward to their support. A heavy cross–fire was poured upon them, and several of the men fell, among them being an able seaman named M?Carthy. Basil Guy, one of the Barfleur?s midshipmen, ran back and bound up his wounds. He then tried to lift the disabled man and carry him in, but, finding the weight too heavy for him, he ran forward again, got the stretcher, and returned with another seaman to assist him. As the rest of the party were all now under shelter, the whole fire of the enemy was concentrated upon him, and the ground was literally ploughed up with shot. M?Carthy was placed on the stretcher, but as he was being carried in, he was again hit, and this time killed.For this gallant action Guy was awarded the Victoria Cross, being the only midshipman who had ever gained that honour.
The troops then advanced across the causeway, suffering heavily from the incessant rifle fire, and from the shell and shrapnel fire of two guns which the Chinese had posted near a water–mill at the right of the road. The causeway was not more than thirty feet in width, so that the troops were unable to extend, and being therefore in close order, afforded an excellent mark to the enemy. Unfortunately by this time the Japanese and British guns had expended all their ammunition, but one of the Hong–Kong guns had still a few rounds left, and directing its fire upon the Chinese guns which were doing so much mischief, brought their fire on itself, and so succeeded in enabling the column to pass along the causeway with far less damage than it would otherwise have suffered. The Chinese fire was on the whole surprisingly good, and showed that their artillerymen had been well instructed. While our own guns were for the most part using black powder, the Chinese were using smokeless, and consequently it was very difficult for our artillerymen to locate their exact position.
The troops were glad enough when night came on. The day had been hot, and though heavy showers had fallen in the early part of the morning, their water–bottles were soon exhausted, and they were compelled to drink the green stagnant water in the ditches, with the result that a great number of them afterwards suffered from dysentery. The losses had been very heavy, and the question of retirement was mooted, only, however, to be at once rejected. To retire would be to add enormously to the prestige of the Chinese and to lower the spirit of the troops. It was therefore resolved that the ground won must be held at all hazards, and the attack recommenced in the morning. All through the night the enemy kept up a desultory fire, which was a trying ordeal for the troops, fatigued as they were by the long day?s fight, during which they had been exposed for hours to a blazing sun, with but a very small supply of food. The Japanese suffered most severely, as the ground they were holding on both sides of the causeway was two feet deep in water, and they had therefore to remain standing all night.
Just before sunrise the Japanese sappers stole forward to attempt to blow in the outer city gate. They were met with a tremendous volley of musketry, and one ball cut the electric wire which was to have been used for firing the charge. Lieutenant Inawe, however, pluckily rushed forward with a lighted fuse, and escaped, almost miraculously, unhurt. Meanwhile one of the Japanese soldiers had pluckily climbed the inner wall and unbarred the inner gate, and the Japanese poured into the city, the Chinese flying before them in all directions. The Japanese were followed by the Welsh Fusiliers, the rest of the troops marching round on the broad city walls to keep as many of the enemy from escaping as possible. There was a good deal of fighting in the streets and firing from the houses, but the greater part of the Chinese troops had retired during the night, having lost heart when they found that their assailants maintained their position and would recommence their attack in the morning. The Chinese loss was estimated at about five thousand; that of the allies was under eight hundred, of which five hundred occurred in the ranks of the Japanese.
The streets were littered with Chinese uniforms and the red sashes and badges of the Boxers, of which they had divested themselves as they ran. Numbers of bodies of people killed by the shells lay about, but only two women were found among them, which seemed to show that the greater portion of the inhabitants had fled before the attack began, leaving the city to be defended by the Boxers and the Imperial troops. The effect of the lyddite shells from the heavy guns had been terrible; indeed the Chinese looked upon lyddite as a sort of death–dealing magic.
The tactics of the attacking troops had not been good, owing probably to the divided command. Had they been marched during the darkness they could have gained their position in the houses under the walls with comparatively slight loss, and could have blown in the gate and assaulted the city at once, instead of which they were halted a long way in front of the wall and then marched in broad daylight across an open plain devoid of cover, and halted for a couple of hours under fire while the bridge over the canal was being repaired. Moreover, almost all the troops were engaged in the operation, only a handful being left to guard the settlements, while a large body of Chinese cavalry kept hovering about some little distance away, and had they been under a competent leader, might have effected an entrance into the settlements and swept them from end to end. Still, the capture of Tientsin was worth the risk; it opened the road to Pekin, and relieved both Peiho and Shanghai from a danger that was every day increasing. It also conduced to the safety of every foreigner in the interior of China.
While the fighting had been going on, the Russians and Germans on the other side of the river circled round and stormed the batteries on the Lupi Canal, taking them with comparatively little opposition. During their advance one of the Chinese shells fell into a building inside the Russian line, in which, unknown to its occupants, dynamite was stored. The explosion was terrific; the windows of most of the houses in the settlements were shattered by it, although it occurred some way off on the other side of the river. The Russian general, who, with his staff, was close by at the moment, had his hand damaged by a falling building, his trumpeter was killed, and a number of men were knocked down by the force of the concussion. The total German and Russian loss was about one hundred and fifty killed and wounded. The Russians were aided by a four–inch gun from the Algerine and a twelve–pounder from the Terrible, which rendered most valuable aid, as the Russians had with them only seven twelve–pounders of an old pattern.
The British guns were not very satisfactory until the arrival of the Terrible?s twelve–pounder. The Hong–Kong guns were obsolete, and the British troops had none others, with the exception of some very old–fashioned naval six–pounders. Indeed the scandalous fact was brought to light that none of the British ships on the China station were equipped with modern quick–firing guns.
The Welsh Fusiliers, after joining the Japanese, pushed through the city up to the north gate, and advanced beyond it to the Grand Canal, where they captured two hundred junks and a small steamer. The Japanese captured also a number of guns, all of which proved very useful in the march to Pekin.
After the city was captured the Chinese had still a strong defensive position. They had fallen back to the railway and to the fort near the Viceroy?s yamen; but they had no heart left in them, and in the afternoon the Japanese entered the fort without a fight and took possession of that and the yamen. Forty–five guns were found in the former, among them the big Krupp that had done such harm to the settlements in the early days of the bombardment, and several fifteen–pounder guns of recent pattern.
The first thing to be done was to extinguish the fires that were raging in several parts of the city. This was a difficult matter, and was not accomplished until a considerable part of the city had been consumed, the amount of property destroyed being enormous. The rest of the city was systematically looted. The Russians had not entered the town, but remained on the other side of the river. They had at once demanded that a military governor should be appointed, but as they and the Japanese were much superior in force to the other nationalities it was evident that they intended that a Russian should be nominated. The matter was discussed with considerable acerbity at a council of commanding officers, but the proposal was finally rejected, and three commissioners, Colonel Wogack, Lieutenant–Colonel Bower, and Lieutenant–Colonel Aoki were appointed to govern the city of Tientsin, which was divided into four sections – British, American, French, and Japanese. A number of Chinese were enlisted to act as police under Captain Mockler of the Indian army, and though they were drilled by a Madras sepoy, who could not understand a word of their language, they became a very serviceable body.
Yu Lu, the Viceroy, managed to effect his escape from the yamen, but a few days later he and the whole of his family committed suicide. His fate was certainly a hard one. Up to the outbreak of hostilities he had done his best to suppress the Boxers and protect the foreigners. On June 9 he had tendered his resignation, but all his efforts in that direction were thwarted by the governor, and he was ordered to remain where he was. The hostility of his enemies at Pekin was carried beyond the grave, for an order was made for his posthumous degradation, a very terrible thing for a Chinese family, simply because he had failed to hold Tientsin against its assailants.
Many small forts round the town were captured without resistance. These mounted many guns, and the fact that the garrisons abandoned them without resistance showed the complete demoralization of the Chinese. If only the assailing force had been in a position to follow up their work, there is little doubt that they could have arrived at Pekin almost without striking a blow.
After extinguishing the fire the troops set to work to render the town habitable. Great numbers of dead were removed from the houses that had been destroyed by shell fire, and from the streets, and in a very short time the town was brought into a satisfactory sanitary condition.
There was now a long pause. While the British and Americans were eager to advance towards Pekin at the earliest opportunity, the Russians fell back. There were but two of their people in Pekin, and it was evident that they were far more desirous of getting political advantages out of the situation than of reaching the Legations. They maintained that it would need an army of sixty thousand to force a way up. The differences between them and the other nationalities became more and more acute, and matters dragged on painfully. It was true that there was still an immense deal to be done before a force of even twenty thousand men could be ready to advance, but in spite of disagreement between the commanders, work was carried on vigorously. Junks and carts were collected, guns, and great stores of provisions and ammunition were brought from the coast, and troops poured in; but still no day was named for the advance.
The anger and discontent among the merchants and traders who had friends in Pekin increased daily. Men talked angrily and despairingly at the corners of the streets, and cursed the hesitation and bickering on the part of the military. Rex went about with his hands deep in his pockets and his head bent down, raging and pouring out abuse against the generals. His father in vain tried to calm him.
“My dear boy,” he said, “you may be convinced that the five thousand or six thousand men that we have here are sufficient for the advance, but even I, anxious as I am to see an expedition set out, cannot agree with you. I quite believe that if on the day after we had taken Tientsin we had been ready to start, five thousand men might have done it. The news taken by the flying Chinese would have sufficed to demoralize the enemy all over the country. But we were not ready, and the delay that has occurred having been sufficient to allow the Chinese to get over their scare, an expedition of only five thousand men would inevitably terminate in a fiasco, as did that under Seymour.
“I think myself that at least ten thousand men will be necessary to relieve Pekin. That force will require a large transport train. Besides, though we have taken a great number of Chinese guns, few of these are field–guns, and, as you know, we are at present terribly deficient in artillery. Even for the guns we have there is no ammunition, for nearly every round we had was fired away the other day. We have no provisions for the troops, and must wait till a sufficient supply is collected and brought up here, together with the guns and an ample supply of ammunition. All this cannot be done in a day. I grant that we do not seem to be pushing on matters as quickly as we should wish, but already five trains a day run down to Taku, and an immense deal of work has been quietly carried on. Besides, the military commanders are convinced that Pekin has already fallen, and that there is no occasion whatever for haste. Troopships are expected in every day with reinforcements from India. Japan, Germany, and France, and when in another week we may have twenty thousand troops here, the military authorities may be well excused for not deciding upon making an attempt with a quarter of that force.”
“Well, Father, I hope that when we do go you will get me attached to the force as interpreter.”
“Certainly, Rex. I have no fear that when the force does go on there will be any hitch this time. Which section would you like to be attached to?”
“Well, I think, Father, if I have the choice, I should like to go with the Japs. They are awfully good little fellows, and as plucky as lions, and I fancy that as they are so strong they are certain to be well in front. I should really like to go with them.”
“Very well, I have been supplying them with a great many goods, and have spoken to their general several times. He talks English very well. When I tell him that you have been twice into Pekin since it was besieged, and brought down the last message that got through from the British Minister, I should think he would be glad to take you.”
Two days later Rex learned that he had obtained an appointment as interpreter with the Japanese troops, and that the general requested that he should begin his duties at once. It was a great relief to him to be employed again, as it took his thoughts off his friends at Pekin. There was not, however, much to do. The Japanese arrangements were all so perfect, the men so quick and handy, that there was no occasion for his services except in making small purchases, and in arranging with Chinese coolies to man the junks, and with country–people for carts. There was some difficulty in obtaining provisions, for the Russians had carried fire and sword among all the villages to a considerable distance on their side of the river, burning the houses and generally killing the inhabitants. The consequence was that no supplies could be got on that side of the river. The villagers, however, began to come in from the north side, very timidly at first, but more boldly when they found that they were unmolested by the soldiers, for American, British, and Japanese all treated them well, and, after the sack of the city was over, resumed their ordinary discipline.
Stores were now accumulating fast. Every train from Taku brought up troops, guns, ammunition, and provisions. The greatest difficulty was the disembarkment of these from the ships thirteen miles away. Some of the merchant ships of light draught were able to come in and unload at the wharves. The blue–jackets and marines in the men–of–war aided in loading up the trucks, and the work went on with great rapidity.
Many of the Japanese officers spoke English, and Rex was soon at home among them, and found them very cheery, pleasant companions. Their general was a very agreeable man, with charming manners, and immensely popular among his troops. The greater portion of these were stationed in Tientsin, where they maintained perfect order in the district assigned to them, and Rex found that the natives returned more fearlessly to their districts than to those occupied by other nationalities.
On July the 20th a letter came down from Mr. Conger, the United States Minister at Pekin, saying that they had been besieged for a month under continuous shot and shell from the Chinese troops, and that quick relief only could prevent general massacre. This woke up the military commanders. General Gaselee, who commanded the British contingent, and General Chaffee, who commanded the Americans, insisted that an attempt at relief should be made at all hazards. To wait until sixty thousand men were assembled would be simply to sacrifice the Legations, and they informed the other commanders that they were determined to start even if they had to go alone.
There was still much to be done before arrangements were completed, but the work went on with increased life and spirit now that it was certain that the Legations were still holding out. It was not, however, until August 4 that all was ready. Even then jealousies had arisen; both the Russians and the Japanese wished to lead the advance, and none wished to accept a position behind the others. General Gaselee then said that the British would take the rear–guard, as he only wished to get to Pekin, and did not care in the least which of the columns got there first so long as they reached it in time to relieve the Legations. After this act of abnegation it was very satisfactory that the British force was the first to enter the Legations.
The force was made up as follows: – Eight thousand Japanese under Lieutenant–General Baron Yamaguchi, with Major–General Fukushima as Chief of the staff; four thousand five hundred Russians under General Linievitch; three thousand British under Lieutenant–General Sir A. Gaselee, Major–General Barrow being his Chief of the staff; two thousand five hundred Americans under General Chaffee; eight hundred French under General Frey. The total force amounted to eighteen thousand eight hundred. No Germans took part in the expedition, and it was generally supposed that they preferred taking care of their own possessions at Shantung to rescuing the Legations. The total Japanese force, if they had all arrived, would have been twenty–two thousand. The Russians had three thousand men at their camp between Tientsin and Chefou, and a few British troops were left in Tientsin. It had been originally intended that Sir A. Gaselee should have a force of over seven thousand, but half the troops he brought with him had stopped at Shanghai by telegraphic instructions from home. This, though no doubt the presence of so large a force at Shanghai was useful in preventing trouble in the south of China, caused us to assume a very subordinate position in the expedition to Pekin, the Japanese, with their large force, doing the principal work of the campaign.
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