6. DIPLOMATIC NEGOTIATIONS AT TIEN-TSIN, AND THEIR ABRUPT SUSPENSION
DIPLOMATIC NEGOTIATIONS AT TIEN-TSIN, AND THEIR ABRUPT SUSPENSION — DEPARTURE OF THE ARMY FROM TIEN-TSIN — MARCH TO CHANG KIA-WAN, AND BATTLE THERE — TREACHEROUS CAPTURE OF BRITISH AND FRENCH SUBJECTS BY THE CHINESE — DESCRIPTION OF CHANG KIA-WAN AND ENEMY’S POSITION — BATTLE OF THE 21ST SEPTEMBER NEAR PA-LE-CHEAOU.
At Tien-tsin Lord Elgin and the Commander-in-Chief occupied quarters in a very fine house, belonging to Tsung-han, the Salt Commissioner. It was in the suburb, which lies between the eastern face of the city and the river. The entrance to it was from the quay running along the Peiho, so that all steamers coming up from Takoo could lie just off the doorway and only a few yards from it. The house within was so commodious, that Lord Elgin invited Baron Gros to stop there also, so that with the two embassies and the English Commander-in-Chiefs staff, the place was fully occupied. General Montauban took up his quarters in the Joss-house, where Lord Elgin had stopped during his visit to Tien-tsin in 1858.
A few days after our arrival at Tien-tsin, it was intimated to the French and English ambassadors that Kweiliang, Hang-ki, and Hang-fu had been appointed by the Emperor to act as Commissioners for the arrangement of affairs with us. All were to be in Tien- [p. 161] tsin by the 31st August. Kweiliang, an old man who had frequently before been engaged in carrying on diplomatic business with foreigners, was the chief of the party, and pretended to be most anxious for a peaceable solution to all points at issue between us. Daily meetings took place between these Commissioners and Messrs. Wade and Parkes. Kweiliang, in announcing to Lord Elgin his nomination as Imperial Commissioner, had declared, in a very cunningly worded letter, that he had with him the “Kwan-fang,” or great seal [大篆, dàzhuàn] and that he had power to discuss and arrange all matters connected with the treaty of 1858, and those which were specified in the ultimatum of March 1860. Peace was talked of by all people belonging to the embassies as a certainty, so that in the army all were speculating as to their chances of getting home to England before Christmas. We were told that the only difficulty raised by Kweiliang was as to the strength of the escorts which should accompany the ambassadors to Pekin. Of all things they objected most strongly to any guns being sent along with the parties, alleging that such an arrangement would disturb the minds of all the country people, who were very timid, and dreaded the presence of foreigners. If peace was concluded, “why should we wish to take a large force with us?” Our doing so would be, they averred, an indication of our want of confidence in them. They also endeavoured to persuade Lord Elgin to go up by boat along the river to Tung-chow.
In this manner some eight days of most valuable time were frittered away in discussing preliminaries. It was at last settled, that an interview between the Imperial [p. 162] Commissioners and Lord Elgin should come off on the 7th September, and that the convention should be signed the day following. Messrs. Parkes and Wade had an audience with Kweihang upon the evening of the 6th, when they pressed him to produce his written powers to treat with us. In an interview with Hang-ki which they had had that same afternoon, suspicions seemed to have arisen in Mr. Parkes’s mind, that the Commissioners were not possessed of the requisite Imperial decree, which alone would enable them to sign the convention. These suspicions gave rise to the demand that Kweiliang’s written powers should be shown them. That Chinese dignitary endeavoured to avoid this straightforward request, feigning indisposition, shilly-shallying and beating round about the bush, and trying to gain time in the manner usual with diplomatists of his nation. His manner, however, clearly showed that there was something wrong; and the English gentlemen with whom he was dealing, were far too accustomed to such manoeuvres not to observe it at once. They left him, saying that it was useless to talk any more upon the subject of the convention with one improvided with the necessary powers from the Emperor to act in his name. Lord Elgin immediately informed Kweihang, that owing to the want of good faith shown by him and his colleagues, regarding the authority of which he had implied the possession, he had determined upon advancing directly to Tung-chow, and that until he arrived at that place he declined receiving their visits. The announcement of our failure fell like a shell amongst us. All those who were supposed to be in the diplomatic secrets had been up to the last moment so confident that all [p. 163] fighting was at an end, that the army generally accepted such assurances without questioning. This caused us to laugh all the more heartily when we learnt that negotiations were broken off. Sir John Michel’s division reached Tien-tsin on the 2nd September, the cavalry on the 26th August, the 1st Royals, 67th Regiment, and some guns the day before; Sir Robert Napier’s division on the 5th September. On the 3rd of that last-named month we were in a position to have moved on towards Pekin with the 1st division and cavalry, leaving the 1st and 67th Regiments behind at Tien-tsin as a garrison. As we subsequently discovered from official papers captured in the Emperor’s palace, it was never intended that Kweihang’s negotiations should be anything more than a sham to gain time and so, if possible, prolong operations into the cold season, which they considered too inclement for our constitutions to bear up against. It is to be regretted that our diplomatic agents did not prevent Kweihang and Company from succeeding, by opening their intercourse with him by a demand for the written powers authorising him to sign the convention in the Emperor’s name. Such a precaution was one which would have suggested itself to all ordinary people, and I can only account for its non-adoption, by supposing that long practice in the diplomatic science has the effect of raising our intellectual powers above the process of reasoning common to the uninitiated in its solemn mysteries.
In consequence of negotiations having been thus abruptly broken off, it was determined that our troops should at once commence their march towards Tungchow. Of the road between Tien-tsin and Pekin we [p. 164] knew but little and could obtain but little satisfactory information.
Our means of land transport were but limited, and the fifty carts required by the embassy were only collected in Tien-tsin with difficulty. It was generally believed that the river was only navigable as far as Ho-se-woo for the sort of boats calculated for the conveyance of troops and heavy stores. Of the amount of supplies procurable along the line of route, no positive information could be obtained. It was therefore arranged between the allied Commanders-in-Chief that the two armies should advance by detachments. Brigadier Reeves with 99th Regiment, 200 Marines, Barry’s and Stirling’s batteries, the King’s Dragoon Guards, and Fane’s Horse to start on the 8th September. The French (about 3000 men) on the 10th; Sir John Michel with the 2nd brigade, Desborough’s battery and Probyn’s Horse, on the 12th September. Sir Robert Napier with the 2nd division was to remain behind at Tien-tsin in command, but to be in readiness for advancing at any moment when called upon to do so. Upon Sunday the 9th September, Lord Elgin and Sir Hope Grant left Tien-tsin, and joined Brigadier Reeves’s force at Hookow, and advanced to Yang-tsun the day after. During the night all the native Chinese drivers who had been collected before leaving Tien-tsin decamped, taking with them all their mules and ponies. A violent thunder storm accompanied by heavy rain had enabled them to make their escape without being perceived.
The 11th September was fine, but, owing to the immobility of the embassy from their loss of transport, a [p. 165] march was impossible. Parties were sent out into the country to try and recover the animals or procure others, but without success. Several junks were, however, seized, into which were transferred all stores and baggage for which no other transport was available. This desertion of the drivers was evidently directed by the Chinese authorities, in order to retard our march, and was a very fair indication of their animus towards us.
Upon the 11th September a dispatch from Pekin reached Lord Elgin. It was from Tsai, the Prince of I, a Captain-General of the Imperial Guard, and Muh, a member of the Great Council and President of the Board of War. It said that as Kweihang and his colleagues had failed in bringing the negotiations lately entered into at Tien-tsin to a satisfactory conclusion, the Emperor had directed them to proceed to Tien-tsin to arrange matters with his Excellency the British Minister, and that, as they intended commencing their journey towards that place on the following day, they hoped Lord Elgin would alter his previously announced determination of advancing to Tung-chow, and await their arrival at Tien-tsin. Lord Elgin’s answer was to the effect that he would sign no treaty before reaching Tung-chow, of which decision he had already informed their Excellencies Kweiliang and Company. Two letters reached Lord Elgin on the 12th September from the same source; one of these communications arrived in camp in the morning, the other in the evening. The first expressed astonishment at our advance from Tien-tsin, and was evidently written with the intention of trying what effect a high tone and an affectation of [p. 166] injured innocence would have upon us. As no reply was vouchsafed to it by his Lordship, I suppose they inferred that it had failed in its object. The second letter received was humbler in its general tone and was accordingly answered by Lord Elgin. The whole drift of both these letters was, that our force should return to Tien-tsin, and that his Lordship should reopen negotiations there. A civil but positive refusal was returned.
On the 13th September the English reached Ho-se-woo [河西务, Héxīwù, find it here]. That town, like all those between it and Takoo, stands upon the river’s bank, there being but few wells and little other water-supply except the Peiho itself. It is the largest place between Tien-tsin and Tung-chow; Chang-kia-wan in its present ruined condition, although formerly a walled-in city, being of less importance. The country through which we had passed was one vast level plain covered, as far as the eye could range, with high standing crops of maize and millet. The road by which we had advanced was unmetalled, but hard and good in dry weather; after heavy rain it would be, however, impassable for all wheeled conveyance. The villages which we passed consisted of well-built houses, mostly enclosed by neatly kept gardens and orchards. The people as far as Nan-tsai-tsun were most friendly and obliging; none had flown from their houses, and all appeared anxious to help us, bringing in fruit, vegetables, &c., into our camp for sale. Between that place and Ho-se-woo there was a marked change visible in the disposition of the inhabitants towards us. Whenever we approached a village the people fled, and shunned all communication with us, [p. 167] Ho-se-woo we found almost entirely deserted, only a few of the worst characters remaining behind for the purpose of plundering the establishments of those who had left. There were two very large pawnbrokers’ shops there, containing great quantities of warm clothing and valuables of all sorts. We placed guards over them, but the Chinese thieves climbed over the walls and roof tops at night and succeeded in carrying off property without being perceived. When this was discovered, all the Chinese remaining in the town were ordered to quit forthwith, in order to save what remained. We procured delicious grapes and very good vegetables there, and the large quantities of yams and sweet potatoes growing in the surrounding fields enabled our army to feed well Ho-se-woo is closely surrounded by orchards of peach, apple, and pear trees, besides numerous clumps of willows. The river is not more than about a hundred yards wide at Ho-se-woo, dwindling away at some points to scarcely fifty, and at one or two places to about twenty yards. The water is clear and good, being above the tidal influence; but wells become numerous in the district north of it.
As it was very doubtful whether the Peiho was navigable at that time of year for large boats beyond Ho-se-woo, and as the supplies procurable from the country were very uncertain, Sir Hope Grant determined upon converting that town into a depot for stores, and establishing a large field hospital there. Admiral Hope had organised flotillas consisting of from sixty to eighty junks in each. An English sailor lived on board each vessel, and each flotilla was under the immediate charge of a commander, with a due propor- [p. 168] tion of naval officers under him. The siege train was floated up the river on pontoons, tracked by sailors or Chinese boatmen. Small detachments of troops accompanied each flotilla at first, marching along the banks for its protection, but latterly this precaution was found unnecessary, and was consequently discontinued. Ho-se-woo was the best half-way station which could be fixed upon between Tien-tsin and Pekin, being about forty miles from the former and the same distance from the latter. As the troops were marching up from Tientsin to Ho-se-woo in detachments, it was determined to collect them at that place, before making any advance towards the capital, so that a halt for a few days there became indispensable. Daily communication passed between the Imperial Commissioners and our embassy. Tsai, Prince of I, and his colleagues seemed so bent upon peace, and the difficulties of transport were so great, that orders were sent back to Sir Robert Napier, directing him to halt at Tien-tsin, as it was not expected that the services of his division would be required in advance of that city.
Upon the afternoon of the 13th September, the day on which we arrived at Ho-se-woo, Messrs. Wade and Parkes with an escort of twenty cavalry, went forward to meet the Imperial Commissioners at Matow, twelve miles from our camp. Upon reaching that village, they found that their “Excellencies” had fallen back upon Tung-chow, disliking evidently the proximity of our army. Our party consequently pushed on for that last-named town, which they entered upon the following day. They had a lengthened interview with the Imperial Commissioners, when, after the usual shilly [p. 169] shallying and childish endeavours to protract arrangements, it was finally settled that the allied forces were to advance to within five li (about a mile and a half) of Chang-kia-wan and halt there, Lord Elgin with an escort of 1,000 men proceeding on to Tung-chow, where he was to be furnished with suitable quarters. He was to meet the Imperial Commissioners there and sign the convention. That accomplished, he was to proceed with the same escort to the capital for the purpose of ratifying the old treaty.
Upon the 16th September Sir John Michel reached our camp at Ho-se-woo, bringing with him the 2nd Regiment, 15th Punjaub Infantry, Desborough’s, battery, and Probyn’s Horse. Upon the 17th the army and 1,000 French marched to Matow, leaving the 2nd Regiment with three guns and 25 cavalry behind at Ho-se-woo for the protection of the hospitals and stores there; 100 irregular cavalry were also left there as an escort for Lord Elgin who remained behind. A small detachment of cavalry was posted at Yang-tsun for the purpose of keeping open the communications, and conveying letters &c. &c. On the same day that we marched to Matow, Messrs. Loch and Parkes went on to Tung-chow to arrange for Lord Elgin’s reception there.
At five o’clock a.m. on the 18th September, our force advanced, having been joined upon the evening before by the 2nd Regiment, which, upon being relieved by the 60th Rifles at Ho-se-woo, had started for head-quarters. Lieut.-Colonel Walker, Assistant Quartermaster-General to the cavalry, together with Assistant Commissary-General Thompson, had accompanied Mr. Parkes’s party to Tung-chow upon the previous evening, the [p. 170] former to arrange with the Chinese authorities as to the site for our camp near Chang-kia-wan, the latter for the supplies required by our troops. It was arranged that Colonel Walker should meet us upon the march on the 18th, and conduct us to the ground indicated by the Chinese for our force to encamp upon.
Upon leaving Matow the road kept near the river for the first two miles, the country around, like all over which we had hitherto passed since we had left Tien-tsin, was highly cultivated, the crops still standing. A little further on the road struck off from the river. Far and near the millet and Indian corn had been cut, which struck many as being ominous, particularly when, upon advancing about a mile further, our advanced guard came suddenly upon a Tartar cavalry picket, which fled when we approached. This naturally put our men upon the qui vive. Military men are far less confiding than civilians in dealing with uncivilised nations. The little experience that I have had goes to prove that the latter are far more rash and less liable to take the precautions which ordinary military knowledge would indicate as necessary. How often have I known civilians, accompanying an army, scoff at the caution of general officers, forgetting altogether that any commander who fails to provide against every possible mistake or probable contingency is deeply culpable. By the strange contrariety of human nature, it is generally these irresponsible gentlemen who are first loudest in their abuse of officers who fail in anything through rashness or want of caution. Notwithstanding the confident assurances which we heard upon all sides from those connected with our embassy, that [p. 171] peace was almost a certainty, every soldier in our force thought that the aspect of affairs was very threatening, when, upon debouching from the village of Woo-tse-ying and approaching that of Le-urh-tsze, we found ourselves in presence of a very large army, covering a front of about five miles in extent. Sir Hope Grant immediately halted the force, and sent orders to the rear that all the baggage should be collected in the village through which we had just passed, upon which place the rearguard was to close for its protection. Large bodies of Tartar cavalry kept closing in towards our flanks, and infantry in force were to be seen pouring in to the position in our front, along which enormous batteries of guns were visible. Shortly after we had halted, Mr. Loch, accompanied by three sowars, galloped in from the Chinese army, bringing with him letters from Mr. Parkes, announcing that all points had been arranged satisfactorily with the Imperial Commissioners. Lord Elgin had previously determined upon sending, post haste to Shanghai for Mr. Bruce, our Minister there, if Mr. Parkes’s interview with the Commissioners upon the evening of the 17th instant should prove successful. In order to carry this out, it was arranged that Mr. Parkes should write from Tung-chow to Captain Jones of the Royal Navy, who accompanied the army for that purpose, telling him of the issue of his negotiations with the Prince of I, and if, as was confidently expected, all our requests were agreed to, Captain Jones was to start off at once for the fleet upon the receipt of Mr. Parkes’s letter, and sail for Shanghai.
Captain Jones received a letter from Mr. Parkes, just before the action commenced, saying that everything [p. 172] had been arranged with the Commissioners. Mr. Loch informed us that he, Colonel Walker, Commissary-General Thompson, Mr. Parkes, five men of the Kong’s Dragoon Guards, and four sowars had left Tung-chow at a little after five o’clock a.m. on that morning, leaving Lieutenant Anderson and the rest of the escort (17 sowars) behind in that place. Mr. Bowlby, the “Times'” correspondent, and Mr. de Norman, an attache to our Minister at Shanghai (with the Commander-in-Chiefs knowledge), had, it appeared, also accompanied the party into Tung-chow upon the day before, and remained behind with Lieutenant Anderson the next morning. This division into two parts of the original party as despatched by Sir Hope Grant’s orders, has never, that I am aware of, been properly accounted for. When it was determined that Mr. Parkes should proceed to Tung-chow, an escort of picked men was furnished for his personal protection.
With a nation so notoriously deceitful as the Chinese, no amount of peaceful declarations, or assurances, warranted the breaking up of that escort into two portions, and leaving one of them behind in a crowded city belonging to men who by no stretch of imagination could be termed friends until peace had been actually signed. To have done so was a disregard of all military precaution, which common sense might have pointed out as most dangerous. Prom Mr. Loch we learnt that when en route that morning for our army, they had passed considerable bodies of troops in and about Chang-kia-wan, and had seen many guns in battery where, on the previous day, no preparations had been made for them, and no troops [p. 173] were to be seen. Mr. Parkes expostulated with the officials on the spot, but they would not or could not give him any satisfactory explanation, merely referring him to their general, who, they said, was away at some distance. Affairs seemed threatening; so Mr. Parkes determined upon returning to Tung-chow, to request the Commissioners to explain why an army was in occupation of the ground where it had been decided we should encamp. He took with him only Private Phipps of the King’s Dragoon Guards. It was at the same time decided that Colonel Walker should remain upon the road with the escort for the purpose of examining the enemy’s position and watching their movements, whilst Mr. Loch should ride on to Sir Hope Grant to inform him how affairs stood. Only one construction could be put upon the matter. It was evident that the object was to entrap us when off our guard, getting us to encamp upon ground commanded by their artillery and completely surrounded by their troops. To surround an army on all sides is always a favourite theory with nations unskilled in war, and one which Sang-ko-hn-sin always endeavoured to effect in his engagements with us. He seemed to think that our forces, if once enclosed upon all sides by his Tartar cavalry, must fall an easy prey to his superior numbers.
The presence of Mr. Parkes and his party in Tungchow, and of Colonel Walker and his party within the enemy’s lines, was a great drag upon our movements, as the Commander-in-Chief naturally dreaded compromising their safety by an immediate attack. Mr. Loch volunteered to return to Tung-chow for the purpose of collecting the party of our people there and bringing [p. 174] them back with him. Captain Brabazon, Deputy Assistant-Quartermaster-General to the Royal Artillery, volunteered to accompany him, carrying an order from Sir Hope Grant, directing all our people then in Tungchow to return to our army at once. Two sowars carrying a flag of truce went with them. It was then about eight o’clock a.m. Our cavalry moved out towards our flanks, for the purpose of watching the enemy’s movements, but with orders to avoid coming into collision with them.
Close by the road along which we had advanced, were three small mounds, standing about four hundred yards from the enemy’s batteries in front of the village of Le-urh-tsze. From these mounds a good view of the surrounding country was to be had. We could see the red coats of our dragoons belonging to Colonel Walker’s party, which was moving about through the Chinese troops, whose grey uniforms made the scarlet of our men all the more plainly visible. Whilst halting there awaiting Mr. Loch’s return, Hang-ki, one of the Imperial Commissioners, came in under a flag of truce, requesting to see Lord Elgin; but upon learning that he was at Ho-se-woo in rear, he returned to his own army. A Chinese officer and three men also arrived, saying that they had come to conduct us to the ground arranged for our camp.
Between ten and eleven o’clock, whilst we were awaiting Mr. Parkes’s return, a commotion was visible amongst the Chinese troops, and immediately their batteries opened, and a long line of fire was delivered by their infantry. Colonel Walker and his party were discovered galloping through the enemy, and in a few [p. 175] minutes arrived amongst us. The account which he gave was, that whilst waiting in the Chinese lines for the return of Mr. Parkes and others from Tungchow, he kept moving about examining the enemy’s batteries, &c. &c., as far as he was allowed to do so. At first the Chinese officers were civil, but after some time he perceived their manner changing perceptibly, until they became rude, trying to prevent him from going about. He warned the escort he had with him to be particularly guarded in their conduct and avoid any collision if possible. At one time a number of soldiers pressed in around him, and one of them, from behind him, tilted his sword from its scabbard. A Chinese officer, who was by, however, had it returned to him. Shortly after this circumstance. Colonel Walker’s attention was drawn to a party of noisy Chinamen collected round a French officcer, who, having accompanied the original party to Tung-chow, was then on his way back to the army. Upon seeing Colonel Walker he called out for assistance. That officer at once made his way up to him, and found that he had received a severe sabre cut on his head, and some other wounds about the body. Colonel Walker took him by the hand, and was endeavouring to help him away, when a rush was suddenly made upon him by the Chinese soldiers. They succeeded in drawing his sword from its scabbard, and in endeavouring to prevent this Colonel Walker cut his hand, and was obliged to let go the French officer, who was immediately knocked down, whilst at the same time they tried to pull Colonel Walker off his horse. To remain any longer amongst them [p. 176] without fighting was impossible, and for a few men to contend against crowds would have been ridiculous. He called out therefore to his party to ride for their lives, and all started for our army at a gallop, cutting their way through with only two wounded and one horse shot, although all the enemy near fired at them, and their batteries, as I have already mentioned, let drive at them as they went. Colonel Walker had a most trying time of it, whilst waiting in the midst of the Chinese army for Mr. Parkes’s return, nor could many have conducted themselves with such good temper and composure as he displayed then. Several Chinese officers had invited him and urged him to dismount and go into a house which was near, for the purpose of waiting there; but with wise military precaution he would not allow himself to be separated from his party. Had he done so, it is reasonable to suppose that he would have shared the same miserable fate that Brabazon and Anderson met with.
The firing, once commenced, was kept up vigorously by the enemy. The French, numbering 1,000, with a battery of artillery, were upon our right, and General Montauban sent to Sir Hope Grant to say that he was about to advance direct upon the village and works in his front. As our allies had no cavalry, a squadron of Fane’s Horse was sent to act under the orders of General Montauban, who placed them upon his right flank, directing them and the few spahis composing his own personal escort, to sweep round the village whilst the infantry attacked it in front. This was brilliantly effected under the immediate command of Colonel Foley, C.B., the English Commissioner at [p. 177] French head-quarters, to whom General Montauban had entrusted that duty. As Messrs. Brabazon and Loch had then been away over two hours, it was concluded that they had been detained in Tung-chow. Sir Hope Grant then formed his troops for a movement in advance. There was some rising ground upon our right front, from which our 9-pomider battery made good practice, a squadron of the King’s Dragoon Guards supporting them. The 99th Regiment was deployed and ordered to advance up the road leading to the village in our front, supported by two 9-pounders. The 15th Punjaub Infantry, with the Armstrong guns, took ground to the left; the 2nd Regiment (Queen’s) with Stirling’s 6-pounders and the cavalry were ordered to make a great flank movement to our left.
In describing the Chinese position, I may say that its right rested upon the old walled-in town of Changkia-wan [张家湾, Zhangjiawan, located here], and its left upon the Peiho, a distance of between three and four miles. The Seaou-ho (little river), ran between these two points, and was fordable almost everywhere. Beyond it rose a succession of sand-hills, interspersed with trees and stunted bushes. The road to Tung-chow ran upon our side of it, passing, for a distance of more than a mile along a high embankment, which the enemy had scarped and turned into batteries, with but little labour. At about one thousand yards from the Peiho, was the long straggling village of Leurh-tsze, in front of which several batteries had been constructed with trees and earthwork; and further again to the left was another small village, sufficiently far in advance to enable the batteries thrown up around it to [p. 178] flank with their fire the centre of the line. At about a mile’s distance from the suburb of Chang-kia-wan, a watch-tower stood upon the road-side, in front of which a strong line of batteries had been erected, at right angles to the general direction of the front, and thus flanking from that extremity all the enemy’s position within range. Their position in this manner closely represented a front in modern fortification. Its one great error was having the little river close behind. I suppose it was a dislike to having their cavalry separated from their guns and infantry, as well as the existence of the embankment upon the south side, which induced them to prefer that bank of the stream. Our artillery soon produced a marked effect upon the enemy’s batteries and troops; and the allied armies advancing, soon drove the latter from their fieldworks. The firing of our Armstrong guns was admirable, each shot telling upon the large bodies of Tartar cavalry, which kept moving round towards our left flank and rear. Major Probyn charged with his usual dashing brilliancy, and cleared the ground to our immediate left. Sir John Michel, to whom the movement upon the enemy’s right was entrusted, found such large bodies of Tartars on his front and flank that he could not make the flank movement intended without losing his connection with our main body. The 15th Punjaub Infantry were therefore directed to advance upon the enemy’s flanking batteries, which raked our other troops. They accomplished this in a most creditable manner, capturing several guns. The Armstrong guns were then sent to Sir John Michel, who swept round to the south of Chang-kiawan, whilst the 15th Punjaub Infantry pushed through [p. 179] it. Our allies had in the mean time taken all the works in their immediate front. The squadron of Fane’s Horse, under General Montauban’s orders, had accomplished great things, they and the Arab spahis of his personal escort vying with each other in pursuing the flying enemy. Our pursuit lasted up to about two miles beyond Chang-kia-wan, when we halted and destroyed the numerous camps which were dotted about over the country. These camps were neatly arranged, and were composed of clean, well-made, cotton tents, pitched in squares, the centre space being uncovered, and evidently devoted to cooking and parade purposes. In front of each tent stood an arm rack, made roughly with boughs of trees. Each camp contained large cauldrons for cooking, and altogether their interior economy was highly creditable. There were considerable quantities of powder in almost every tent, so that when the tents were set on fire, the numerous explosions filled the air with volumes of smoke, which shot up in tall graceful columns every moment whilst the work of destruction was going on. Those in Pekin must have had early intelligence of their defeat from these explosions. How the hopes of the war party there must have sunk within them as each succeeding cloud of smoke went upwards, announcing the destruction of their camps, and the failure of all their deeply-laid schemes of treachery. How they must have cursed Sang-ko-lin-sin’s ill-luck, and wished they had never listened to his boasted confidence in victory.
As we afterwards discovered, from captured correspondence, he had written to the Emperor from Ho-se-woo, saying, that although we were advancing from [p. 180] Tien-tsin, our numbers were so very inconsiderable that the Celestial mind might remain perfectly at ease, as the position he had chosen in front of Chang-kia-wan was so very strong, and his numerous troops so well placed, that it would be an easy matter to annihilate the barbarians, if we should advance so far. Whilst he was writing thus to his Imperial master, the Prince of I and his colleagues were treating with our embassy. The French troops had marched over a considerable extent of ground in their advance, and were too tired to advance beyond Chang-kia-wan that evening, so they encamped without the town, which our troops, being in advance, occupied, the cavalry and artillery encamping in its neighbourhood. Our casualties had been only twenty, the French fifteen. The enemy suffered considerably, and left upwards of eighty guns in our hands. During the action, the Tartar cavalry, having circled round our left flank, advanced towards the village of Woo-tsze-ying, thinking, no doubt, that our baggage would fall an easy prey; but our Commander-in-Chief had forestalled them, by having it all collected into one spot just before the action, and leaving a strong rear-guard with it. The enemy’s force was estimated at about 20,000.
Although our action had been a brilliant one, and satisfactory in every way, as we had beaten such a large force with our insignificant numbers and taken or destroyed almost all their guns and material, yet a heavy gloom hung over most of us that evening, from the uncertainty connected with the fate of those in the enemy’s hands. All knew the Chinese to be as cruel as they are false and treacherous; and many feared that the fact of [p. 181] our victory that day would embitter them all the more strongly against their prisoners, and excite them, like truly ignoble barbarians, to seek for some consolation for their defeat, by torturing those who were helplessly in their hands. The missing party consisted of Captain Brabazon of the artillery, Lieutenant Anderson of Fane’s Horse, Messrs. Parkes, Loch, De Norman and Bowlby (the “Times'” correspondent), seventeen picked sowars of Fane’s Horse, one of Probyn’s Horse, and Private Phipps of the King’s Dragoon Guards.
Sir Hope Grant took up his quarters in Chang-kiawan, from which nearly all the inhabitants had fled. That night, either by design on the part of the Chinese or some accident by our followers, the houses near the head-quarters took fire, and it was only by the great exertions of the engineers, and other troops turned out to aid them, that the fire was kept from spreading to all the buildings around.
As a punishment for the treachery of our enemies, Chang-kia-wan was given over to loot. It was a strange sight, for the two following days, to see the crowds of poor people from the surrounding villages pouring in from daybreak until dark for the purpose of sharing in the plunder. To them, the clothes and furniture, which, in the pawn-shops particularly, were stored in quantities, were of great value, although to our men they were of no use, as none had the means of carrying them. I did not hear, upon good authority, of any valuables having been found; but in one warehouse there were about five million pounds of brick tea, called so from its being prepared like compressed vegetables, in blocks resembling bricks. This, as also our cap- [p. 182] tured guns, we were unable to remove from want of carriage.
Chang-kia-wan is a very old walled-in city, and was some two hundred years ago a place of great importance; but, judging from the ruinous condition of its walls, defences, and public buildings, its glory has long since departed. The greater portion of the inner space enclosed within the walls, is now laid out in vegetable gardens, or covered with the debris of streets which have ceased to exist except in name. To the east of the city there is a large suburb, consisting of well-built houses, and having a thriving air about it. This is the case with many Chinese cities that I have seen. The suburbs become of far more importance than the place itself, which dwindles away proportionally with the growth of its more modern rival. A branch from the Seaou-ho winds round the suburb, separating it from the city; a fine stone bridge, with quaintly carved mouldings and balustrades, spanning the river between. This “Little River” flows from the “Whenho,” which unites with the Peiho near Tien-tsin. The Chang-kia-wan branch was once navigable for boats of considerable size, and we were told that it was owing to the failing of the water, and its consequent unsuitableness for traffic, that the decline in the city was chiefly attributable. Around this faded city the country was highly cultivated, and thickly dotted over with well-built villages, and neatly-kept orchards and gardens. Groves of pine trees formed a remarkable feature in the landscape, and curious tombs of all sizes and grades in importance were scattered about in the most picturesque spots. There, as at Takoo and [p. 183] Tien-tsin, the position of every grave was marked by a mound of earth, shaped like an inverted cauldron, with, in most instances, a round ball of earth on top, giving it a finished look. Many of these mounds were neatly plastered over with cement, and some were faced with brickwork. In shape some of them resemble the Burmese pagodas on a small scale. Millet and maize, beans and sweet potatoes, were the principal products of the country. The roads leading towards Tung-chow and Pekin were deep, hollow ways, so much below the general level of the country around, that in many places cavalry might march along them unperceived by people in the fields close by. In rainy weather these roads become small streams, and form the drainage of the country. Each succeeding year of course serves to wear them deeper. To cavalry and artillery in action, or even moving rapidly straight across country in any military manoeuvre, they are a serious obstacle.
Within Chang-kia-wan, and several villages in its neighbourhood, were high marble tablets, covered with inscriptions, setting forth the virtues and amiable qualities of great men or virtuous wives. All these monuments rest upon colossal representations of the tortoise, which in China is the emblem of longevity, and is a favourite symbol with Chinamen. The most important of these marble tablets are protected by picturesquely constructed roofs raised above them, and supported by wooden pillars, generally coloured red. In some of these the yellow tiling denotes that they have either been erected by order of the Emperor, to commemorate the deeds of some public functionary [p. 184] or else to announce an Imperial mandate to be observed by the surrounding people.
Upon the 19th September, Mr. Wade went to Tungchow under a flag of truce, carrying with him orders from the Commanders-in-Chief, desiring that all English and French subjects then prisoners should be returned forthwith, and threatening that in the event of any impediment being shown to their doing so, Pekin would be attacked and taken.
Mr. Wade succeeded in seeing the prefect of Tungchow, who appeared upon the walls of that place. He said that Mr. Parkes had not returned to Tung-chow, after he had left it with the escort, and that he supposed he had gone to our army. The prefect seemed to dread an attack upon his city, but was assured, that if the inhabitants forbore from molesting us, that place would be spared.
Tung-chow was a large city; of its strength or capabillties of resistance we knew nothing. If it was strong and had a large garrison, we could not leave it untaken in our rear, and its assault would have delayed us materially. To procure its neutrality was of great moment to us, as it was there we intended establishing our depots of stores coming up the river. It was, in fact, the port of Pekin; and it was at first hoped that the canal which we knew existed between those two places, might serve us as a means of communication between them. It was subsequently arranged that Tung-chow should be spared, the authorities there aiding us in procuring supplles, &c. &c.
As Mr. Wade was unable to gather any reliable information regarding our prisoners from the Tung-chow [p. 185] prefect, he proceeded from thence in a westerly direction, and soon found himself in presence of the Chinese army, with which he in vain tried to communicate, as their outposts would not allow him to approach, and fired upon him several times when he endeavoured to do so. Lord Elgin joined our head-quarters on the afternoon of the 19th.
Upon the 20th September, a cavalry reconnaissance was made in the direction of the enemy’s camp, the bulk of which was found to be in the neighbourhood of the Pa-le-cheaou (eight-li bridge). An intelligent Chinese soldier was taken prisoner, who informed us that Sang-ko-lin-sin was commanding in person. He stated that several foreigners had been taken to Pekin in carts upon the 18th.
At daybreak upon the 21st, we moved out of Changkia-wan, and formed up facing the enemy at about two miles’ distance from the town. We were then joined by the French, whose strength had been increased to about 3,000 men, by the arrival of General Collineau’s brigade upon the previous evening. All our baggage was collected together and placed under a strong guard, in a village close by, our allies making the same arrangement for theirs. The plan of operations agreed upon by the Commanders-in-Chief was, that the French were to advance direct to the Pa-le-cheaou, which is a fine stone bridge over the canal running between Pekin and Tung-chow, whilst our force made for a wooden bridge about a mile nearer the capital Our cavalry were at the same time to make a wide sweep to the left, so as to drive in the right flank of the enemy upon their centre, whose only lines of retreat would then be [p. 186] over the canal by the Pa-le-cheaou and the wooden bridge near it, against which the allied forces of infantry and artillery were respectively advancing. They hoped thus to inflict considerable damage upon the enemy, whilst crowding across those two narrow bridges. As the French had been encamped in rear of Changkia-wan since the action of the 18th, we had to wait for some time for them; but upon their arrival the two armies advanced as had been previously arranged. When we had marched a mile, we found ourselves in presence of a large army, their cavalry stretching away to their right as far as we could see, and endeavouring to turn our left flank; their infantry strongly posted in the numerous clumps of trees and enclosures which lay between us and the canal. As soon as we came within range, they opened fire upon us from hundreds of jingalls and small field-pieces, to which our allies replied with their rifled cannon. Sir Hope Grant rode forward towards the French for the purpose of examining the position, and having advanced beyond our line of skirmishers, rode almost in amongst the Tartars, mistaking them for the moment for the French. Upon turning back to rejoin our troops, the Tartar cavalry, seeing him and his numerous staff cantering away from them, evidently thought it was some of our cavalry running away, and at once gave pursuit with loud yells. Stirling’s 6-pounders, however, opened heavily upon them when they were about two houdred and fifty yards from our line, saluting them well with canister, which sent them to the right about as briskly as they had advanced. An infantry battalion close by was ordered by its brigadier to form square, and in that formation fired [p. 187] volleys at the advancing enemy, without, I believe, killing a man of them. Our old soldiers, untrained in all the minutiae of position and judging-distance drill, and armed with the much-abused old Brown Bess, could not certainly have done less damage. Upon more than one occasion during the war, the absurdity of imagining that an enemy can be destroyed by an infantry fire delivered at long ranges, or directed at troops not crowded together in deep formations, was made apparent to all except, perhaps, a few unpractical men, whose judgment was biassed by theories, and from whom no amount of actual illustration in the field could drive the opinions which they had formed upon the sands at Hythe. Upon one occasion I remember seeing a man get up from behind some cover where he had been concealed, about twenty yards from a hue of our skirmishers, and get away safely over a smooth open field, although fired at by every man of ours near him, some having reloaded and fired a second time at him. The enemy’s cavalry, having retreated out of range, re-formed, and seemed in no way disheartened, but kept on moving towards our left, round which flank they appeared determined to get. Our cavalry, which had been moving slowly forwards in that direction, upon arriving within charging distance, went straight at them. Fane’s Horse and the King’s Dragoon Guards in the first llne, Probyn’s regiment in support behind. The Tartar cavalry had halted behind a deep wide ditch, upon seeing our troops advancing towards them, from which position they delivered a volley as our cavalry reached it. The horses of the irregulars are always ridden in short standing martingales, which [p. 188] effectually prevent their jumping well; so, when our line reached the ditch, but very few of the irregulars got over it at first, many of their horses, unable to pull up, tumbling in, one over the other. The King’s Dragoon Guards, however, got well in amongst the Tartars, riding over ponies and men, and knocking both down together like so many ninepins. The irregulars were soon after them, and in the short pursuit which then ensued, the wild Pathans of Fane’s Horse showed well fighting side by side with the powerful British dragoon. The result was most satisfactory. Riderless Tartar horses were to be seen galloping about in all directions, and the ground passed over in the charge was well strewn with the enemy. At no time subsequently during the day would they allow our cavalry to get sufficiently near for a second charge, and I have no doubt but that those who retreated in safety, carried back into the wilds of Tartary strange stories of our impetuosity in battle, and of the dreadful shock of British cavalry, before which they were unable to stand for an instant. Our artillery opened fire upon the retreating forces with good effect, firing slowly, every Armstrong shell bursting amongst them and bringing down the enemy in clumps.
Sir Hope Grant with the cavalry, three Armstrong guns, 99th Eegiment, and Royal Marines moved in pursuit to our left, in which direction we found several camps. The ground was difficult in some places for cavalry and artillery, particularly as we approached Pekin, the roads having steep banks on either side, and the fields enclosed by deep wide ditches, some of which might be claimed as fair hunting jumps. In one of the [p. 189] captured camps we found eighteen guns, and in all the tents were standing. Of course we burnt and destroyed all we took. When the country people perceived that we were doing so, numbers of them turned out for the purpose of plundering the tents of the army which had fled; and it was a strange thing to see peasants coming out from these camps, staggering under the weight of captured clothing, cooking-pots, &c. &c., with which they were hurrying home, evidently dreading lest the Tartar soldiers should return before they had reached their respective villages. As we approached each camp, we could see the enemy streaming out from it, and only in one instance did they attempt any resistance. Our cavalry having approached an encampment which was closely surrounded with trees and broken ground, where they were of course powerless against the enemy’s infantry, which opening a sharp fire, several of our men were wounded. When, however, our infantry and artillery came up, the enemy were quickly dislodged, and the 99th succeeded in bayonetting several. Our pursuit lasted to within about six miles of Pekin, horses and men being well tired and hungry. We halted there for an hour; and I shall never forget how truly acceptable some grapes were which we found in a village close by. The enemy having disappeared from our front and flank, we marched back, making for the wooden bridge over the canal where we rejoined the 2nd brigade. The French had advanced to the Pa-le-cheaou as agreed, taking all the camps which lay near that bridge, over which they drove the enemy, killing large numbers of them in its vicinity; a number were also drowned in their efforts to get across the [p. 190] canal at points where there was no bridge. Whilst Colonel Mackenzie, our Quartermaster-General, was marking out the position for our camp, a fire was suddenly opened by the enemy from the north bank of the canal, to the south of which it had been arranged that we should encamp.
A party of the 15th Punjaub Infantry under Lieutenant Harris, the second in command of that corps, was immediately pushed across the river, supported by a wing of the 2nd Queen’s. The Punjaubees advanced most dashingly, driving the enemy from a camp which stood near the canal and capturing the guns from which they had opened fire. The French encamped to our right, also upon the canal. Our baggage, which had been sent for when the pursuit ended, came up in the afternoon. I should imagine that almost every man in our army ate ducks for dinner that evening; for upon arriving at the canal it was crowded with fine large ducks, which so quickly disappeared, that the next morning, when going there to bathe, I could only see four remaining. These I have no doubt were captured before the day was over, and judging from the manner in which they were being hunted when I saw them, I should fancy they must have been tender indeed when placed upon the table.
Our loss in men during the day had been only two killed and twenty-nine wounded; our allies also, only suffered slightly. [p. 191]