5. ACCOUNT OF PAPERS FOUND AT SINHO
ACCOUNT OF PAPERS FOUND AT SINHO — PLANS FOR ASSAULT OF TUE TAKOO FORTS — REMARKS UPON THEM — STORMING AND CAPTURE OP THE NORTHERN FORTS — DESCRIPTION OF THEM, AND THEIR POSITION — MARCH FROM TAKOO TO TIEN-TSIN — DESCRIPTION OF THE COUNTRY PASSED THROUGH — OF TIEN-TSIN AND ITS NEIGHBOURHOOD
Some very interesting papers were found in the Mandarin’s house at Sinho, containing the correspondence between Sang-ko-lin-sin and the Great Council of State, relative to our probable line of conduct, should we actually land in the neighbourhood of Takoo with hostile intentions. One of these documents was an exposition of Sang-ko-lin-sin’s views of the matter. In it he commenced by commenting upon the English parliamentary debates which had lately taken place upon the Chinese question. Of most of these he had evidently received translations. Referring to our having talked so much and so publicly of our proposed operations in China, he says, the very fact of our having done so was a clear proof that we never intended to carry them into execution, adding that, “those who make war, keep silent regarding their proposed movements; everything is talked over and done in secret, the drums are muffled and no flags are shown.” In short, he gives us credit for making war in a more systematic and a wiser manner than we English are ever able to do, owing to [p. 122] the extravagant freedom allowed to our press upon all subjects. He then goes on to remark, that, as regards the proposition made by a very wise British senator, that our fleet should proceed up the Yang-tse-kiang, and that Nankin should be occupied by our troops, for the purpose of cutting off the supplies of grain, supposed by that intelligent English gentleman to be continually flowing up from thence by the Grand Canal to Pekin, — “Why, as you know, that canal has been rendered useless since 1852. Should the barbarians persist in their avowed intention of invasion, they will, most likely, land at Peh-tang; to do so is very difficult, but as we cannot defend that place, they may succeed in doing so. There is only one egress from thence, to the east of which are large impassable salt-works; and should they present themselves in the open country, my numerous Tartar cavalry is so disposed that they must be annihilated. Should they, however, pass them, there is still the Takoo position, opposite the forts of which they were before so signally defeated, and which are now stronger than ever.” He estimated the entire strength of the allied forces at 30,000 men, and, strange to say, follows up the current events just as they occurred, the only difference being, that, instead of being annihilated, we chased from the field those who were detailed by him to carry out that highly unsatisfactory termination to our existence. A few days before the attack on the northern forts of Takoo, the French commandant of engineers with a few men crossed the Peiho at the point where it had been determined that we should throw our bridge across. He proceeded cautiously along the right bank, until at [p. 123] length he got under a fire from small guns, jingals, and musketry, before which he had to retire, but as the affair seemed to be becoming serious, General Montauban marched down most of his forces to support this small party, and, having sent across a couple of thousand men, made good his position amongst the gardens which surrounded the village. Within about a thousand yards of this point there was a small Tartar entrenchment, from whence the enemy retreated as our allies advanced. Beyond it, the road was so cut up in several places, that, until bridges were thrown across, nothing else could be done; and, in fact, until the boat bridge for the Peiho was ready, the position of our allies on its right bank, was, in every respect, a false one.
Sir Hope Grant objected to the line of action on that bank of the river, and from our post at Tang-koo we could see so much of the enemy’s position on both sides of the Peiho, as to enable us to form a correct estimate of the relative bearings of each fort with the others. It certainly seemed, even to the most inexperienced in war, a dangerous proceeding to leave the north forts untouched, whilst we operated by the right bank towards the defences on the south side. The forts there were evidently much the strongest, and their fire could not be brought to bear upon us whilst engaged in attacking the northern forts, with the exception of the small detached fort furthest up the river on that side, commanding the space between the two northern forts.
From Tang-koo to the nearest fort on the left bank, was somewhat under two miles, and the reconnaissance made by Captain Lumsden of the Quartermaster-General’s department proved, that by a little labour a good [p. 124] and safe road could be made to it, by making a detour so as to keep away from the river as much as possible, and thus avoid any cross fire from the southern banks that the enemy might bring to bear upon us. With this detached fort in our possession, we should be able to look into the similar one on the south bank, enfilade the whole length of the great southern one, and take all the sea defences of the large northern fort in reverse. It was doubtless the key of the whole position, and as such the English Commander-in-Chief considered it the true point of attack. Sir Robert Napier, one of the cleverest engineer officers in our service, was also of this opinion, and from his head-quarters being in Tang-koo, he had opportunities for several days of studying well the nature of the ground and position. Our allies, however, thought quite differently, and their plans, they said, in favour of the advance being made upon the south side, were so evidently in accordance with the rules and science of war, that to attack the northern forts could lead to no satisfactory result. They had never previously spoken out so freely upon any subject, as they then did upon this point; and even those who before were most guarded in their remarks upon our movements, gave free vent then to their opinion. Their arguments were based upon grounds which, no doubt, would have had great weight had we an army of 100,000 men; but with such a small force as ours, the breaking of it into two parts, which must necessarily have taken place, in order to keep up communication with Peh-tang and our fleet, the real basis of all our operations, and from whence our provisions and ammunition were drawn, was, to say the [p. 125] least of it, a very hazardous proposition. We all knew that the enemy had a very large force of cavalry in the field, and were able, even the day we advanced from Peh-tang, to manoeuvre round us, and get between us and that place; how much more easily then might they repeat this, when the bulk of our forces had been dispatched across the river? In fact, if they at all appreciated their own strength, or the false position we should have thrust ourselves unto, as soon as we had crossed the Peiho, the campaign might have easily been converted into one of victory for them.
From that moment we should have been an isolated force without any base of operations, without any means of communicating with our reserve stores, except by moving back a considerable number, and fighting an action to make our way into Peh-tang, which even a few days of bad weather might have at any time rendered almost inaccessible. We should have had to depend upon the uncertain resources of the country in and about Takoo, which we knew to be destitute of any cultivation, and to consist chiefly of mud and salt flats intersected by raised causeways which led to the forts, and along which, the information we had received led us to conclude, we should have had to advance in order to capture those strongholds. To leave the northern forts untaken would be to leave a large force on the left bank who could then operate upon our rear, and besides this, give them a point d’appui on that side, to which they might transport as much of their force as was available for service in the field. The construction of a bridge over the Peiho was no easy matter, and entailed a considerable delay, arising [p. 126] from the fact of its being a tidal stream, with soft, muddy banks; and although boats were procured in sufficient numbers, yet much labour had to be expended in constructing anchors, and collecting other material, and when finished it was not suited for heavy guns.
If we had operated by the southern bank of the Peiho, as our allies wished, and supposing that everything had turned out in the very happiest manner, we could not possibly have been by the 1st September as far advanced in the work of the campaign as we actually were upon the evening of the 21st August, when, in pursuance of Sir Hope Grant’s plan of attack, we had stormed and taken the northern forts. I need scarcely remark that time was everything to us. We had opened the campaign later than was expected at home, having been delayed a month at Talienwan, so that every day was of the greatest value to us. The cold weather was reported by all to commence towards the middle of October, and the climate in November was said to be most intolerable, the rivers being then frozen, and ice for some two or three miles out to sea along the coast.
For a private individual to criticise the acts of public men is generally both foolish and ridiculous; for a soldier to comment upon the deeds of his superior officer, and to presume to award either praise or blame to his chief, is a breach of discipline. Yet it may be allowable here to record the opinion of all in the China army, that no man had ever evinced a more praiseworthy determination, more self-reliance on his own opinions, or a greater fixedness of purpose in steadily carrying out what he believed to be the correct and [p. 127] true line of operations than Sir Hope Grant did upon that occasion. On the one hand were a number of civilians all murmuring at his tardiness, scoffing at his caution, daily and hourly repeating, “What nonsense it is bringing up heavy guns,” — “Why don’t we push on?” “I would take the forts to-night if I had a couple of hundred men!” — “The enemy are bolting and only waiting until we attack to bolt altogether” — such were the expressions in every one of these gentlemen’s mouths. On the other hand, our allies were obstinate in their own opinions as to the necessity of taking the southern forts first, and even at the last moment their general formally protested against the line of conduct proposed and subsequently adopted by the English Commander-in-Chief. Under such circumstances nine generals out of ten would have been driven to some rash act, and yielded either to the impetuosity of those upon whom no responsibility devolved, or to the objections of our allies, urged, as they were, so strongly.
Sir Hope Grant proved himself superior to all these circumstances, and could he have heard or known the manner in which he was lauded by every one in camp on the evening of the 21st August, he would have been well repaid for any annoyance which his determination may have cost him; i.e. if the praises of subordinates are ever dear to those in power, or the approbation of the “oi polloi” ever recompense public men for days of labour, sleepless nights, or the mental and bodily wear and tear experienced by all on whom rests great responsibility and the welfare of the many, not to mention the national honour or the glory of the British arms. [p. 128]
Sir Hope Grant had determined upon not making any onward movement until a depot of supplies, sufficient for the army for ten days, had been collected at Sinho, the heavy guns and engineers’ park brought to the front; and then, when all these were in readiness, he proposed to move out from Tang-koo and take the nearest of the northern forts.
By the night of the 20th August all was in train for this movement, and a road constructed over the great salt flat which extended to the north and west of the nearest northern fort, and which stretched round most of the fortifications of Tang-koo. Under the superintendence of Sir R. Napier, the road reconnoitred by Captain Lumsden was rapidly improved, advantage in the way of cover being taken of the embankments which formed the numerous canals intersecting the salt flat. Bridges or causeways had also been constructed over these canals. On the night of the 19th August pickets were thrown forward, towards the forts, in order to protect the working parties. During the night of the 20th the guns were taken down and placed in batteries which had been thrown up. We had sixteen guns and three mortars in action; the French had four guns, and all these opened fire at daybreak on the 21st instant, the enemy responding from their pieces which bore upon our position. The enemy’s guns in the elevated cavaliers, which before were pointed seaward, had been reversed, and now fired into us as rapidly as they could load and discharge them. Amongst their guns were two English 32-pounders, taken from the gunboats they had sunk last year. [p. 129]
It was greatly to be regretted that Admiral Hope had not sent up our fleet of gunboats two days previously to the mouth of the Peiho, and by keeping them there, make a show of attacking with them. Had such been done, it is reasonable to suppose that none of these guns would have been turned landwards, and we should have been spared much of the heavy fire brought to bear upon us, whilst no loss would have been thereby occasioned to the navy. Only two boats of ours and two belonging to the French took up a position sufficiently distant to be beyond the range of the Chinese ordnance, and yet, at the same time, able to annoy the occupants of the forts. These gunboats fired but very little, and, owing to their being so far off, could not so accurately estimate the effect of their own fire as to be able to ascertain whether the shot fell short, or went right over into the Peiho, behind the northern forts. At about six o’clock in the morning, when the fire waxed hotter and hotter, every one being intent upon the scene then before him, and all anxiously speculating as to when the signal for a general advance would be given, a tall black pillar, as if by magic, shot up from the midst of the nearest fort upon which almost all our fire was concentrated, and then bursting like a rocket after it had attained a great height, was soon lost in the vast shower of wood and earth into which it resolved itself, — a loud, bursting, booming sound, marking, as it were, the moment of its short existence. A magazine had blown up, and in a small enclosed work, such as the one then before us, an explosion of this kind in most defences would have put an end to the contest; but such was not the case in this [p. 130] instance. The fire from it certainly ceased for a minute or two, but before those who, in the interim, had pronounced the affair at an end could acknowledge their mistake, the garrison had reopened from their batteries. As long as a gun was left them they were determined to serve it, and most manftdly they did so, all the while exposed to a most crushing shell fire brought to bear upon them, and with but little, and in some instances, no protection whatever against it, I know of nothing more startling at any time than the explosion of a magazine, and certainly at such moments as these it is doubly impressive. To the soldier exposed to a heavy fire and all the uncertainty attending upon an impending assault, which he knows must soon end the contest one way or another, as also, it may be, his own life, such an event is a relief. It occupies the mind, and serves, by the excitement which it causes, to withdraw thought from those painful subjects which, no matter how one may act, rise up like visions, whether as memories of the past or doubts and surmises regarding the future, and pass in solemn array before the bravest, who, at such times, may have no active duty to perform, and who is then merely a passive spectator, — exposed, however, to all the disagreeable contingencies of bullets, &c., and waiting until, at a given signal, he is up and charging where glory points the way, cheering with all the mad enthusiasm which those only who have themselves fought in a breach can possibly realise and none can adequately describe. Half an hour afterwards a second explosion occurred, and this time in the larger northern fort: whether occasioned by the fire from our Armstrong [p. 131] guns or from that of our gunboats, was a debated point; the artillery affirming the former, and the navy giving the verdict in favour of the latter — with whom I am disposed to agree. By seven o’clock, all the large guns in the fort that we were attacking were completely silenced, most of them being knocked over by our shot. Our columns of assault were then ordered on, the French advancing by the right and approaching the angle of the work resting on the river’s bank, and our party, consisting of the 44th and 67th Regiments, moving straight to their front towards the gate of the fort.
It is very easy when an undertaking of this kind is over, to pick out faults in the arrangements made beforehand, and many are the wiseacres afterwards, who say, “Oh, why was not so and so done?” — “How very stupid to have done so and so!” These remarks particularly apply to hangers-on about the camp, travelling gentlemen, and that class commonly known as adventurers. Errors in judgment are frequently made in all warlike operations, and such wili ever be the case, as long as warfare presents such a vast variety of combinations. One of these mistakes was made in taking up a small pontoon bridge, instead of a number of ladders, or a small plank-bridge made like a fire-escape, to rest on wheels. As it happened, the pontoons were not only useless for the assault, but were really a very great impediment, as they blocked up the narrow causeway along which we had to advance, and exposed a large number of men for a considerable time as they carried them, and who had frequently to stop until a wounded man was removed from the party. A round [p. 132] shot passed through one of the pontoons as we advanced, and rendered it quite useless. A few ladders made of bamboo, and a small number of planks carried along with them would have enabled all to get across both ditches easily, whereas all the English storming-party, who actually captured the place, in conjunction with the French, struggled and clambered across the wet, muddy ditch, having water nearly up to their armpits; the pontoons did not prove of any use, and were the unfortunate cause of many wounds and of several lives being lost. It was the rear face of the fort we attacked, in the centre of which was the gate, having two wet ditches running along the face of the work. From the outside of one of these the wooden bridge had been removed, and the drawbridge of the inner one drawn up. The gate itself was blocked up with strong timbers, placed closely together in rows, and inserted in the ground at the bottom. Mud and earth had been banked up along the interior of this face, so as to strengthen it against our shot. The river face was partly oblique to the line of the bank, so that at its south-eastern comer it nearly touched the stream, whilst in rear, at the south-western angle, it was some twenty or thirty yards from it. Such being the case, the two ditches could not be carried completely round the river face, and so the outer one terminated half-way up the work. The French, who had approached the angle, quickly perceived this, and many men having run round, thus turned the first ditch, although most of the men first up had scrambled across on the ladders. The Canton coolies in the French service carried their ladders, and I have never [p. 133] seen men under fire behave with greater coolness, or perform their allotted work in a more matter-of-fact way. The space between the two ditches was only twenty feet, and this was planted as thickly as close stubble with sharp bamboo stakes, to cross which on foot was almost impossible; these were also placed along under the walls, between them and the inner ditches. The scramble over these two ditches and the staked places next to them was no easy matter, and all who crossed them deserve well of their country. Showers of missiles of all kinds, from pots filled with lime, to round shot thrown from the hand, were showered from the walls, and annoyed the gallant few who were fortunate enough to have reached the foot of the walls unhurt; whilst the poor fellows in rear who ran along the ditches, seeking for some favourable spots to cross at, or the more reckless ones who plunged into the ditch at the places they first came to, were exposed, not only to a rattling discharge of arrows, bolts from cross-bows, jingalls firing handfulls of slugs from the work itself, but also to a flanking fire of round shot, thrown with accuracy from the correspondingly placed fort on the south bank. It was during this period that almost the whole of our loss was incurred; and the narrow causeway, of about sixty yards in length, which led through the deep mud and water, extending along nearly the entire of the face attacked, was soon covered with the dead and dying. The obstacles to be overcome were so difficult, that an unpleasantly protracted time had elapsed before a sufficient number of men had assembled beneath the wall to attempt a scramble over it. The French had [p. 134] succeeded in getting over three or four ladders; but as quickly as they placed them against the walls, they were as quickly thrown down or pushed back by the Chinese within, who, notwithstanding our proximity, were as active in their defence as when some hours previously we had been playing at long bowls with them. Many could be seen jumping on the parapet, and from thence taking deliberate aim at those below; and, having fired, they jumped back again to reload. Colonel Mann, of the Royal Engineers, who was amongst the first over the two ditches, with Major Anson, A.D.C., had, after much hacking and cutting with their swords, succeeded in severing the ropes which held up the drawbridge. Down it came with a crash, but it was so shattered by shot that, at first, it seemed incapable of sustaining any weight. A single beam of the outer bridge had been left by the Chinese; it was quite loose and rolled about, yet it enabled many to cross over. The quaint joking of our men was most amusing whenever any unlucky fellow, whilst crossing, overbalanced himself and fell into the ditch, from whence he climbed up the muddy bank opposite, there perchance to meet his deathblow, ere the very smile at his own mishap had passed from his countenance; such is life, death, and war. Every minute added to the number of men who got across and under the walls, round which they prowled to discover a scaleable place. Our guns still battered away at the parapet, wherever the enemy showed themselves in numbers, or attempted to work the iron guns which were placed almost at every yard along the works. Our allies commenced to ascend the [p. 135] walls cautiously, the first and most daring being of course hurled back ladder and all; but, when men are determined, and their courage is sustained by constantly increasing numbers coming up from the rear (which has of course a proportionally disheartening effect upon the besieged), success under such circumstances is generally on the side of the assailants. Up, rung after rung of the ladder the French crept warily, until at length, with a bound, the first man jumped upon the parapet and waved the tricolor of his nation, whilst every one joined in his maddening cheer, amidst the wild clamour of which his spirit passed away from him to another, and let us hope, a better world. He fell, shot through the heart, in the proudest position in which a soldier can die — who could wish for a nobler death? Almost simultaneously with this event, young Chaplain, an ensign of the 67th Regiment, succeeded in reaching the top of the parapet, partly pushed and helped by the men along with him; he carried the Queen’s colour of his regiment, which he let float out proudly into the breeze; it was a splendid sight to see. A regimental colour has been seldom used upon such an occasion before; it is generally an ordinary Union Jack, made of bunting, that is carried to plant in a breach, the other being a too dearly prized military emblem to risk in such a place, where the explosion of a mine, or the momentary success attending a sortie, might occasion its loss for ever, or hand it over an easy prey to the enemy. It was an inspiriting moment for every one, and each felt that strange sensation which thrills through the frame in all actions, when the turning point has been past, and the clouds [p. 136] of uncertainty, which until then hung around the scene, are suddenly dispelled, revealing success.
Before our flag was displayed, some few had made their way within the gate, the first men of either army actually inside the work being an officer of the 44th Regiment, named Rodgers, and Lieutenant Burslem of the 67th Regiment; these were the small end of the wedge, which is ever quickly followed by the more substantial part. The Chinese stili fought within the works, and the bayonets of both French and English had to come into play ere all resistance ceased. Ensign Chaplain and a small party who followed the colours, rushed up the ramp leading to the high cavalier which formed the principal feature of the fort, and cleared it with the bayonet of all the Chinese there; in doing this that gallant young officer received more than one wound. One Chinese general had been killed during the bombardment, and a second, the chief man who commanded all the northern forts, was shot by an officer of marines after he had entered. This general was a red-buttoned mandarin of the highest military order, and, refusing to submit, fought to the last.
The scene within the works bespoke the manner in which our artillery had done its part, and the debris caused by the explosion of the magazine lay in heaps everywhere, intermingled with overturned cannon, broken gun-carriages, and the dead and wounded of the garrison. Never did the interior of any place testify more plainly to the noble manner in which it had been defended. The garrison had evidently resolved either to fall beneath its ruins, or had been to [p. 137] the last so confident of victory, from the strength of the place and our former defeat, that they never seemed to have even contemplated retreating. Two other circumstances also may have had much to do with the stoutness of the resistance shown us; one is, that the great general who commanded all the northern forts, and of whose death I have just spoken, had accidentally visited the place on an inspection, as the firing commenced, and remaining there, encouraged by his presence and example all who were inside. This is a rare thing in China, where it is proverbial that the officers are almost always the first to bolt, a misfortune to which the common soldiers ever attribute their defeat. The other circumstance is, that the peculiar nature of the defences rendered any exit from the forts almost as difficult for the Chinese as it was for us to get in. We attacked the weakest face; the front which looked down the river was the only place from which they could retreat, and was far more formidable than the rear, so much so, that it was only by letting themselves down by ropes to the foot of the walls, and then scrambling singly through the abattis and bamboo stakes that any could escape. This was a circumstance which also told greatly in our favour when reconnoitring the works, because a few men, availing themselves of any cover which the irregularities of the ground might present, could approach near any fort, knowing that they had only to protect themselves against the direct fire brought to bear on them, the obstacles around the fort serving to protect the reconnoitring party against any sortie quite as efficiently as they protected the garrison against a coup de main. [p. 138]
Thus fell the first Takoo fort, the key to the whole position. Preparations were immediately made for the attack on the large northern fort, which, once in our hands, would give us command over all the river defences.
Our heavy guns were advanced and unlimbered ready for action, to the left of the captured fort, whilst others were placed in position on the raised cavalier inside it. The two forts were exactly a thousand yards apart, having a raised causeway running between them, with wet ditches on either side. Between the causeway and the river the space was deep mud, and across this guns could not be taken; but north of it the ground was firm and well suited for the movement of all arms.
A small party, under the command of an officer of the Quartermaster-General’s department, was sent out to reconnoitre this ground before the troops or guns were put in motion for it, and advancing slowly towards the place in skirmishing order, they ascertained its fitness for the purposes required. During all this time the enemy still kept up a heavy fire, and seemed particularly jealous of the approach of the reconnoitring party. Suddenly a white fiag was hoisted on the large southern forts, and almost immediately afterwards numbers of other white standards floated from every work. Ali firing at once ceased. A man appeared coming from the direction of the large northern fort, carrying a flag of truce, who was met by Mr. Parkes, C.J.B., and a party who were sent out to ask him what was meant by this change. He could not give any satisfactory answer, and said that all he knew was, that a [p.139] white flag had been hoisted in Takoo, and that he had merely followed suit by doing similarly on the north bank. A boat was now seen to put off from the southern side bearing a flag of truce, and having a mandarin in it. He was taken to the fort in our possession, when it was found that he was merely the bearer of letters from Hung, the Governor-General, to Lord Elgin and Baron Gros, both of whom had just come up from the rear. These communications were evidently not considered satisfactory, because, I believe, no allusion was made in them to surrendering the other forts. Under these circumstances all our preparations for attack were still continued, and two fresh regiments were brought up. Although the white flags were still flying, the garrison would not allow any one to approach near the large fort, and were very rude in their gestures to those who accompanied the first flag of truce, who, availing themselves of the opportunity afforded them, went up to the first ditch. The soldiers apparently did not show any signs of succumbing. All this time boats were passing to and fro across the river, removing the wounded men, of whom there many, and some of whom could be seen in different directions crawling and dragging their wounded limbs over the slimy mud near the river’s bank.
A message was sent to the Governor-General Hung, informing him that he would be given two hours to surrender the forts, after which time, should he not do so, our guns would reopen fire. Towards the expiration of the allotted period the sky became heavy and lowering, and a dark mass of dense clouds appeared to [p. 140] windward, rising up in a threatening manner. Our troops began to advance. Still there was no sign of resistance on the part of the enemy; their guns did not open fire, and our men entered the great northern fort and quietly took possession of it. As we entered, we saw crowded together in one part about two thousand Chinese soldiers, who, having thrown away their arms and peculiar military caps, had assumed the guise of peaceable citizens. I have seldom seen men who could so easily transform themselves from one character to another. One moment they were impudent and sturdy soldiers, the next, as if by the slap of a harlequin’s wand, they mysteriously became all at once, not only apparently civilians, but also very meek and humble looking ones. Such were the miserable looking people collected before us, all expecting that at some given signal they should be slain en masse, or honoured by the favour of individual decapitation. When informed that they were perfectly at liberty to go where they pleased, they could not at first understand or credit our leniency, naturally thinking that they must be deceived.
Their traditional history could not furnish a parallel instance in which prisoners, taken in war, were allowed to return intact to the bosoms of their families, or wherever their inclinations might lead them. We afterwards heard that this circumstance was much talked of everywhere, and our clemency greatly applauded.
The storm which had been gathering to windward now came rapidly up, and the rain poured down in torrents, whilst thunder and lightning added to the commotion above. Heavy rain is dreary anywhere, [p. 141] even in the most picturesque countries; but let the reader picture to himself a heavy downpour, falling upon a flat muddy steppe, upon which there was not even a tree or patch of grass, and where distance was only in any way marked by the many ugly canals, with their accompanying high, earthen, unsightly banks. As we stood upon the lofty cavalier of the large northern fort, and looked down from thence upon this dreary expanse beneath, I do not believe human eye ever rested upon a more essentially hideous prospect. The rain increasing each moment, some spot which had been, comparatively speaking, dry before, gradually disappeared beneath the water, until at length it seemed as though another deluge was about to threaten mankind and his habitations. The road by which we advanced to the forts was for a considerable distance quite submerged, and the uncovered spots were so deep with mud that even the very lightest of our guns were only dragged through it by the united exertions of long teams of horses, aided by the tired gunners themselves, who kept spoking away at the wheels. No amount of horses, and of men attached to drag-ropes, could move our heavy guns or waggons; their wheels sank deeper and deeper every minute, until their naves touched the mud. It was fortunate for us that the enemy had surrendered the large northern fort, because under such a torrent we could not have done anything, even against the mildest resistance; no storming-party could have succeeded in crossing the deep mud in front of the works. Every one felt this as he struggled back to his wet tent, across the dreary waste, into the mire of which we sank knee-deep; many left their boots [p. 142] after them, being unable to drag them from the sticky mud to which they seemed as if glued. All of us had been up long before daylight that morning, and had not partaken of “any regular meal during the day. I need scarcely add, all were ravenously hungry. Fancy, under such circumstances, a long dreary ride back to camp, of five miles, over the worst of roads, which, when not fetlock deep, was so slippery that horses could only keep their footing with great difficulty; and then upon arrival to find that during your absence your camp had been completely flooded, and that the little bank you had constructed around your tent, hoping thereby to keep out the rain, had, after the water had either broken through or run over it, served quite an opposite purpose, so that then, when the water was subsiding everywhere else, as the rain ceased, your engineering arrangements had converted your canvas habitation into a pond, on the surface of which, the first thing which attracted your attention on entering, was your pet pair of boots floating about, whilst here and there the upper portions of some heavier article peeped up above the water, reminding you at a glance that most of your property was, unhappily, under it.
By the time we arrived in camp it had grown very dark — a circumstance which increased our discomfort, and prevented us from doing many things towards bettering our condition, which, with daylight to aid us, we could have done. No effort could avail to kindle a fire, and it was with great difficulty that we succeeded in lighting a candle. Our clothes were, of course, thoroughly drenched on us, and not having any “dry [p. 143] change,” all that remained for us was, to be down wet and cold as we were, and court slumber as best we could, after a frugal supper. Some ration biscuit, and a pot of stuff labelled “beef,” but which I feel convinced had no just claim to such a high-sounding title, with a little brandy and water, was the welcome that awaited us, when we reached our temporary residence near Sinho, on the evening of the memorable taking of the Takoo forts.
Before it became dark, more than one communication had passed between the Chinese authorities and the allied commanders, and before the French and English had taken possession of the great northern fort, Mr. Parkes, under a flag of truce, went over into Takoo to have an interview with the Governor-General Hung, whom, after much badgering, he induced to sign a capitulation, in which he surrendered all the country and strong positions up the river, as far as Tien-tsin, including that city itself.
This mandarin was much to be pitied. In the service of his government, want of success is certain disgrace; he alluded to this himself, saying that it was Tan’s misfortune in 1858 to be Governor-General and to be degraded then, and that now it was his own lot; every one had left him, even his private servants, like so many rats, which are said to forsake sinking ships. His officials, too, seemed quite to understand his fallen position, caring no longer to flatter and support a man on whom degradation’s darkest shadow already rested. He appeared to regard the event as a matter of course, or as a Mussulman would say, “of fate.”
The next morning the gunboats were hard at work [p. 144] removing the booms and stakes which blocked up the entrance to the river; they soon cleared away enough to open a passage for themselves, so that within a few hours several of those useful little craft were steaming up the muddy waters of the Peiho. The first grand move had been made: we had captured the forts spoken of throughout China as impregnable, and upon whose fortification every care had been bestowed, and no expenditure spared; every obstacle which the ingenious Chinese could think of had been employed, every trick of defence that their wit could suggest had been resorted to — in a word, the essence of all the military and engineering skill possessed by the vast empire of China, from the plains and steppes of Tibet to the sea-shores of Assam, was exerted to render them invulnerable, and such every man in China believed them to be. News spreads everywhere most rapidly throughout the flowery land, and we were told that, before a fortnight had elapsed, our triumph was announced in all quarters, and the people learned at Canton, that the flags of England and France floated over the waters of the subjugated Peiho.
Admiral Hope, with some French and English gunboats, pushed on to Tien-tsin on the 23rd, and on the 25th, Lord Elgin and the Commander-in-Chief followed, whilst the 1st Royals, the 67th Regiment, and a battery of artillery were conveyed there in gunboats; the cavalry, also, commenced their march on the 25th, and, moving up the left bank of the river, over great open plains of grass, reached Tien-tsin in two days; then the 1st division, moving along the right bank, whilst the French marched up the other, Sir Robert Napier following with the 2nd division, leaving the 3rd Regi- [p. 145] ment behind, in occupation, at the Takoo forts, and the Rifles at the Sinho bridge, for its protection.
Before starting for Tien-tsin, I spent a day inspecting the south forts, having previously examined those on the northern bank, and the more minutely one noted their relative bearings and the extent to which the defence of each depended upon that of the others, the more thoroughly was one convinced of the wisdom displayed by Sir Hope Grant in selecting the key of the whole position for an attack. The large south fort and the smaller one furthest out to sea could not actually bring a gun to bear upon the one we attacked, whilst from it, once we had taken it, we could enfilade the entire length of the largest south fort — to have attacked the position from the sea would have been a fatal delusion; and the more one studied the defences and the obstacles placed in front of them, the more easy it was to understand why our attack in 1859 failed so completely. The great strength of the Takoo forts consists in the locality where they are situated. They stand on the banks of a tidal river, where no part of the surrounding country is more than three or four feet above high-water mark, and most of it covered by the spring tides, while those places which are left dry are only kept so by being enclosed with high earthen banks. Towards the sea, in front of these formidable works, there extends a muddy flat so deep that single men, when unladen, can with difficulty struggle through it; for any storming party to do so under a heavy fire would be almost impossible. But if we suppose them capable of this, and of gaining the harder ground, still, just in front of the outer ditch, there was a stiff abbatis [p. 146] to get through, then two or three wet ditches to cross, having the spaces between them closely covered with pointed stakes; and last of all were the walls of the place, about fifteen feet in height and bristling with cannon and wall-pieces of all shapes and sizes. If anything like the opposition shown to us had been made against an attack from the sea, I do not believe that any troops in the world could have lived through such an assault. It is the custom of the world generally, and the British portion of it particularly, to abuse any one who is so unfortunate as to have met with a reverse or some unlooked-for check; but, whatever may have been said regarding Admiral Hope’s attack on those places in 1859, how much more censure should we have heard if that gallant sailor at the time — perceiving the difficulties to be overcome, and knowing his weakness in having no troops at his disposal — had announced to Mr. Bruce, that his force was inadequate to capture the forts? England would have howled from one end of it to the other, and there would have been no lack of those who would have attributed to the naval Commander-in-Chief other and more unfavourable motives than those arising from extreme caution. These same forts had been taken easily in 1858 by his predecessor, the same line of conduct being pursued then as that which failed in 1859, so that if any brave man will for a moment imagine himself circumstanced as Admiral Hope was upon the occasion referred to, I am sure he will say that he (the Admiral), acted exactly as he himself would have done. Now that we know the exact strength of these works and the formidable resistance which their garrisons are capable of [p. 147] showing, to attempt a landing in front of their embrasures, and with their artillery fire unsubdued, seems like the action of a madman; but, in the absence of such knowledge, and with the possession of this fact, that a year previously they had been captured in like manner, Admiral Hope’s attempt was merely the action of a brave, gallant, and determined seaman. The forts were all made of mud, timber being used for the facing of the embrasures and roofs of magazines. The peculiar feature of their construction was having their principal batteries placed on high-raised cavaliers, the terrepleins of which were elevated about twenty-five feet above the plane of sight. This, of course, gave them great command, and had the further advantage of diverting the principal fire of an enemy from the main body of the works, where, of course, the chief portion of the garrison would be — and brave, indeed, must have been the men who served the guns placed there for any length of time under a heavy fire! Casemates constructed with timber ran along the sea face of all the works, and numbers of guns were placed there, firing from embrasures made like portholes in a ship’s side. In these casemates a large portion of the garrison was quartered, the remainder occupying huts, built after exactly the same fashion as those in the Tartar camps which we took near Sinho, and were reed fascines, bent so as to form a semicircle, placed over a slight framework of wood, mud being plastered over the fascines, and then a coating of mud and chopped straw over all, which rendered the whole waterproof so long as this outer covering received no injury. Once tear a small piece of it away, and then the whole out- [p. 148] side plastering tumbles down after a few days’ heavy rain. The ends of these huts were made of planking, in which were the windows and doors: the hut in which Sang-ko-lin-sin resided was tastefully finished and fitted up with sofas and cushions. Amongst his papers we found maps and detailed plans of each of the forts: upon entering his quarters I was at once struck by seeing one of those little cane-bottomed chairs, generally to be seen in the cabins of gunboats and other vessels of war. It had been taken evidently from one of the sunken gunboats, and placed as a trophy in the great man’s room. Along the walls, immediately above his sleeping-place, there was a long description, illustrated with quaint-looking pictures, of a proposed plan for annihilating the barbarians, should they ever be so successful as to attempt a march upon Pekin. The plan consisted in placing large quantities of combustibles and explosive mixtures upon bulls, covering them over with a sort of umbrella like clothing: these were to be brought in front of our army, having crackers or other fireworks attached to their tails, under the terrifying influence of which the animals were supposed to rush in upon us, the combustibles then exploding, to the utter confusion and destruction of the assembled army. The fact of such a childish plan being, if not approved of, at least entertained by the General-in-Chief of the Chinese army, is of itself a sufficient indication of the national ignorance respecting the science and practice of war. Many people at first believed, that much relating to war and its weapons of defence, &c. &c., had been taught this people by the Russians, with respect to whose conduct in [p. 149] the East so little has ever been known, and consequently, so much suspected. The fact that this picture and its accompanying description found a space on the walls of Sang-ko-lin-sin’s sleeping-room, ought to be a sufficient proof for the most suspicious on this subject, that neither the haughty Chinaman nor his Tartar governors have learned anything from their Russian neighbours. Indeed, the papers found amongst the documents taken from the Mandarin’s house at Sinho showed in what a very suspicious light the celestial authorities looked upon the Russians residing in Pekin, ranking them only a little higher than spies and barbarians, anxious to render us every assistance. The departure also of the Russian ambassador from Pekin a few months before the actual commencement of hostilities proved clearly, that no very good understanding existed between him and the government of that place, and that he did not care to reside inside its walls whilst we were battering outside, should the tide of war ever take us up so far into the country.
There can be no doubt, however, that the Russians had endeavoured to ingratiate themselves into official favour with the Pekin Government, by supplying them with guns and munitions of war, as in one of the dispatches from Pekin to Sang-ko-lin-sin, that chief is warned against the attempts of the Russians “to approach the coast under their old pretence of affording aid and bringing guns,” &c.
Immediately in rear of the southern forts were the towns called Tung-koo and Se-koo; both of these, as also the adjoining position, being known under the title of Takoo, or the “Great Market” [大沽]. Between the [p. 150] forts and the town, which is about a mile, the space was one large salt-flat, intersected by numerous deep canals, which could only be passed by the regular causeways extending between the town and the forts. There was a regular line of entrenchments, with ditches, running round those towns. The amount of labour expended upon the construction of the works had been immense, and if it was regularly paid for, must have cost the Chinese Government a prodigious amount of money. Had a tithe of it been spent under the superintendence of a skilful engineer, the place might have resisted us for months, or, in other words, our expedition must have virtually been a failure, as we were not in a condition to undertake a siege; and even if such had been possible, a few days of bad weather during our attack would have postponed our future operations considerably. If the men who had garrisoned the captured fort had possessed skill and discipline commensurate with their courage and determination, with a fair proportion of really efficient small arms, they might have scorned our attempt to capture the place as we did by open assault. In spite of their present ignorance of war, its customs, weapons, and science, if their inflated self-importance could be brought to realise their deficiencies, and to see clearly how immeasurably superior the Western nations are in all such matters, a very short time only would be required to enable them to assume such an attitude, that no nation, or combination of allied powers, would dare to invade their country. In Europe there are restless adventurous spirits, many of whom have all the requisite energy, and some the military know- [p. 151] ledge, equal to that which on former occasions has enabled men, lost to all ties of home and country, to carve out with their own swords in distant lands that fame and fortune from which unfavourable circumstances, or their own heedlessness had debarred them in Europe; such men, with an equal sum of money and an amount of labour equal to that which was expended upon the Takoo forts at their command, might render that position impregnable in six months.
The road from Takoo to Tien-tsin passes close to the Peiho the whole distance, cutting off, however, the sinuosities for which that river is famous. For the first ten miles the road is simply a low mud embankment, running through numerous villages all close to one another, the intervening spaces being gardens and orchards very neatly arranged and evidently tended with the greatest care. Between the road and the river there was a mass of gardens, trees, and houses, whilst all to the west appeared one vast field of millet, or Indian corn, stretching away over the flat country as far as the eye could reach, with scarcely a house or village to be seen, and no trees. As you approach Tien-tsin, however, habitations and willows are sprinkled sparingly about to the westward. There are no wells, the Peiho supplying all wants of this kind; water is taken from it at the ebb tide, and although then of a dark yellow colour, it is soon rendered as clear as crystal by immersing a lump of alum in it, and merely waving it to and fro for about a minute. This has a remarkable effect, for when you have removed your hand, you may perceive the muddy matter sinking and settling at the bottom, just as if the momentary pre- [p. 152] sence of the alum had converted it into lead. In order to avoid any unpleasant taste resulting from the alum, it must be removed soon. The houses along the road, as well as those composing the villages, are well built and comfortable habitations, all fitted up with fireplaces. The sleeping apartments have the kangs or heating apparatuses which I have previously described. The poorer people build their houses of mud, with thatched roofs and a covering of mud over all. In addition to this, there is also a layer of fine mud and chopped straw plastered over the entire edifice, giving the whole a finished and pointed appearance, such as I have never seen earthen houses elsewhere possess. The angles are all neatly cut, and the walls are even and perpendicular. In the towns and villages there are large numbers of brick houses well tiled over, according to the peculiar fashion of China. The bricks and tiles used throughout all those places which I have visited in that country are of a dark neutral tint, which at a distance looks bluish and strange. Every little hamlet had its joss-house, containing in it the usual unsightly figures, some with many arms and legs, others with black, white, or red faces and limbs, all being as fantastic, hideous, and ungodlike in design, as they were uncouth in execution. I have never seen any people, if I except a few repulsive-looking priests, worshipping in such buildings; and the greater portion of those which I visited were badly cared for, everything within, including the gods themselves, being covered with dust and dirt. Were it not that I occasionally saw here and there a new temple in course of erection, I should have concluded that all respect had now-a-days departed from [p. 153] amongst the Chinese for the idols which their ancestors had venerated and worshipped.
What strikes any one accustomed to European roads as being very peculiar is, that along the highway to the Imperial capital, there is a total absence of stone. The road all the way is merely a good cart-track over hardened mud; after heavy rain it would be quite impassable for wheeled carriages of any sort; and I very much doubt if even cavalry in any number could get over it. So very flat is the surrounding country that the presumption is strongly in favour of its being flooded in wet weather. There is one great difficulty to be encountered in moving an army along this road, namely, the lack of open ground for encampments. We remedied this by moving up in detachments, the cavalry marching by the left bank. At the first halting-place, the guns had to remain on the road for the night, there being a deep ditch on one side and a marsh running along the other. The first march was through a very close country. The road passes through a succession of gardens and villages, with ditches on either side, for many miles. It is also narrow, and does not widen much until Ko-kow is passed, after which it runs over extensive plains, which, at the time of our march, were rich with an abundant harvest. Here and there a Tartar encampment was visible, presenting indications of recent occupation.
At Pei-tang-kow there were four forts and an entrenched camp, lately constructed, at the bend of the river, where it formed a right angle, so that their guns swept down the reach of the stream. This position was intended as a second line of defence, in case we forced a [p. 154] passage through the Takoo forts, the fortifications round Tien-tsin being the third; but the army, on whom devolved the duty of defending the first line, had learnt such a lesson, that no attempt was made to make a stand at either the second or third, and Admiral Hope’s rapid advance up the river, after, the capture of the Takoo forts, enabled him to land and occupy the Tien-tsin forts before the beaten army could be reorganised for another defence. As we approached Tien-tsin, the country became open and suitable for the movements of all arms to the westward of the road; but the tall Indian cor and millet, averaging from six to ten feet in height, prevented us from having a very extensive view. The land was level on all sides, without a mound larger than a grave; the corn was in the ear, but not yet ripe, the middle of September being harvest time. In many places along the road, and particularly near villages, I saw coffins placed at the edge of the cartway. Some were nicely thatched over, or covered with an arch of brickwork, whilst others, containing the remains of poorer people whose relations were unable to provide such an arrangement for their deceased friends as I have spoken of in the former instances, were left by the roadside, just as the undertaker had turned the coffin out of his shop. Every village, through which we passed, contained stores of wood, some of it being magnificent timber, and the rest indifferent stuff, used for firing. The good is reserved for coffins, upon whose construction every Chinaman bestows his “little all,” being anxious to provide a respectable receptacle for his bones. This is such a recognised custom, that a fond [p. 155] son not infrequently presents his father with as handsome a one as his means will admit of as a birthday present, and the gift is received by the parent as the most delicate attention his son can pay him.
At two miles down the river, from Tien-tsin, stand two newly-built forts, one on either bank, both beautifully finished. Their slopes and parapets were much neater and more highly finished than those at Takoo. From these, continued lines of entrenchments stretched round Tien-tsin, uniting again upon the river at about two thousand yards from Tien-tsin to the north of that city, their entire circuit being about fourteen miles. These lines, with a deep ditch in front, were well-made, and consisted of a substanfial rampart with parapet on top. We ascertained that the construction of this vast work cost the Government only at the rate of fifteen pence the running foot, which, if the account be true, would make the entire cost of them somewhat less than 5,000£.
Tien-tsin is a walled city, and in shape a right-angled parallelogram, the longer side being just a mile, the shorter one about a thousand yards; a large suburb stretches out from both the north and south. It is situated at the confluence of the Grand Canal with the Peiho, and is consequently, from its position, a town of great importance. The walls do not touch either of these streams, being some four hundred yards from them, but the intervening space is covered by a dense suburb, in which are situated the best streets and shops of the place. Vessels drawing eleven feet of water can go up as far as Tien-tsin; but above that city, when you pass beyond the tidal influence, boats of a lighter draught [p. 156] only can ascend to Ho-see-woo, from which place to Tung-chow the river can only be ascended by junks drawing not more than eighteen inches of water; and even such vessels experience much difficulty in passing the wide and shallow portions.
Much discussion, both public and private, has been spent on the task of ascertaining the real name of the river we call the Peiho, or rather, of determining which of the two streams flowing into the Gulf of Pechili at Peh-tang and Takoo respectively, should properly be called by that name. No satisfactory answer has as yet been given on these subjects. I took some trouble to collect information on this point, and found that the river marked in our maps as the Peiho, like every other small one in this, and I believe, other parts of China, has no universally recognised name whatever. Its appellations are invariably local, and change every ten or twenty miles. Thus, for instance, at its mouth it is known as the Nan-ho, or “south river,” whilst the river at Peh-tang is called the Peiho, or “north river; ” the two rivers, which are so close together, being thus distinguished from one another in the locality where they fall into the sea, by the geographical position which they relatively occupy.
At Tien-tsin the river is called the Hy-ho, or “ocean river,” because it runs from thence into the sea. Between Tien-tsin and Tung-chow (where it branches off into two distinct streams, both having different names), it is known generally as the Ta-ho, or “great river,” but in many places people call it the Peiho. Local circumstances greatly influence the names of rivers throughout China, so much so, that as far as I could [p. 157] learn, there is not one generally received and understood name for a single river in the empire. When you ask a Chinese the name of a river, he seems so much astonished that it would almost appear that the idea of rivers being distinguished by particular names had never previously occurred to him; and he generally replies, after a moment’s consideration, either the “Ta-ho” or ” Seaou-ho,” i.e. the great or little river. If there happen to be two rivers in his neighbourhood, he distinguishes them thus; but if only one, although it may be an insignificant stream, he calls it the “Ta-ho,” by which the Yang-tse-kiang and brooks no larger than those frequently crossed in the hunting-field are alike known in China.
Rivers flowing sluggishly through a flat country, turn and twist about to a great extent; but I have never seen any stream bend like the Peiho, insomuch that when sailing upon it we could look back and see boats, although bound for the same destination, apparently going in diametrically opposite directions as regards the points of the compass. The angles are in many places so very acute, that it is only with the aid of ropes, on both banks, that steamers of ordinary length can get round them. There is a bridge of boats maintained by the authorities over the Peiho at Tien-tsin, and two over the Grand CanaL Opposite the city on the left bank there is a considerable suburb, and always a vast quantity of salt stacked along the bank. This is brought up the river from Takoo and the surrounding country, where the salt is collected from the marshes and salt-works about the neighbourhood where the Peh-tang and Peiho flow into the sea. This salt is [p. 158] of great value and forms a very considerable article of traffic. It is sent up from Tien-tsin in smaller vessels to Tung-chow, by the Peiho, and from thence by the canal to Pekin, or else, it is forwarded inland to the westward along the Grand Canal. As in ali the Chinese cities I have seen, the suburbs touch the walls, and the ditch is merely a miry sewer that may be crossed anywhere with ease. In many places the walls are sadly out of repair; and although the outward revetment of brickwork stands perfect, yet the inner one, which should support the rampart, has fallen down in many places, causing such breaches in it that you cannot walk well along the top. There are but four gates, one in each side, having straight streets running from one to the other, and in this way dividing the town into four equal quarters. Where these four streets meet there is a high joss house-like building, under which the roadways pass through large gates. The space within the city walls is not nearly covered with houses, and at each comer there are large pools of water, in and about which there are numerous graves, and all appear more or less a receptacle for filth. There are no wells; the water of the Peiho is used for drinking, when cleared with alum in the manner I have mentioned. There are large ice-houses everywhere, which are filled yearly with ice from the river, towards the end of winter. Ice was regularly hawked about the streets daily, during my stay at Tien-tsin, and sold cheap. When dissolved, many people use it instead of the waters of the Peiho, particularly below Tien-tsin, where, owing to the tide flowing up with such force, the water is frequently [p. 159] brackish. In the forts at Takoo there were regular ice-houses, from whence the garrison derived its water for drinking. Grapes, apples, pears, and peaches, could also be procured in great abundance, and at a very reasonable rate; the grapes were very good indeed. The people were civil, and brought us water and tea whenever we halted along the road. Supplies of all sorts were sold to the troops at a moderate price, and there was also an abundance of grain for horses. Indeed, at this season of the year any force of cavalry might march along the Pekin route and find plenty of corn. The cattle eat millet greedily, whilst but few horses, unless very hungry, would touch the paddy. Upon reaching Tien-tsin the force encamped on a fine plain extending beyond the lines of works south of the city, and near the Yamun where Lord Elgin signed his treaty in 1858, and which temple we converted into our general hospital. The French, who had marched up the left bank, encamped close by the river on that side of it. [p. 160]