Primary sources: North China Campaign of 1860

Chapter 5

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March from Pehtang — Sight of the Enemy — Order of Battle — Splendid Practice of the Armstrong Guns — Charge of Tartar Cavalry — Attack on the Entrenched Camp — Tartar Bravery — The wounded — Scene in the Enemy’s Camp — Village of Sinho — A Night Alarm — A Spy — Affair of Tangkoo — Flight of the Enemy — Tartar Gunners — Quarters of the Troops — The Takoo Forts — Deputation of Natives — Interview with Hangfuh — Exchange of Prisoners — Chinese Views of the War.

 

Long before light on the 12th August, a loud hum of voices prevailed throughout Pehtang, bespeaking that the troops were astir, and ere “the early village cock had twice done salutation to the morn,” Ratcliff, in the person of the Deputy-Assistant Adjutant-General, presented himself to Sir Robert Napier, and intimated to the gallant General of the Second Division that his “friends were up and buckling on their armour.” The First Division and the French were to proceed along the causeway and take the entrenched camp in the front, while to the Second Division were allotted the duties of diverging a few hundred yards to the right in company with the Cavalry, and after marching across the muddy morass, to attempt to cut off the Tartars from retreating along the Tien-sin Road, and so force them to seek [p. 84] refuge in the Takoo Forts. The 99th, who had arrived from Talien-wan since our landing, were left behind to keep possession of the village and protect the stores, besides forty men and one officer from each regiment to look after the baggage, all of which was left behind. It was a fearful trudge for the unfortunate troops across that mud, numbers kept dropping out in the line of march and rested for awhile on the side of some grave-mound; others, especially the Punjaubees, finding their boots an impediment, preferred throwing them away, and tucking up their trousers, pushed boldly on. The appearance of languor throughout the line was distressing. The gun-carriages sank so deeply in the slush, that great fears began to be entertained of their ever getting on; but the artillerymen exerted themselves with such zest and zeal, that in spite of all hardships, they kept their position in the order of march. It was likewise painful to see the cavalry horses struggling on knee-deep with their heavily accoutered burdens. The morass seemed interminable; but a travel of some four miles brought us to harder ground, and in sight of a long line of Tartar cavalry drawn up to oppose our advance. The appearance of the enemy ahead soon inspirited the well-fagged troops and quickly made each man recover his alacrity. The head of the column had left Pehtang at 4 A.M., [p. 85] and though two days’ hard work had been devoted to repairing the roads, the deep, tenacious mud rendered them so difficult that it was not till half-past seven o’clock that the rear of the column cleared the gate of Pehtang. It cost the troops two hours’ hard labour to traverse the first two miles; and then a considerable halt was necessary to enable the rear to struggle through the heavy ground and close up, for the General was aware that he was liable to attack from the north as well as from the enemy in front; and observing the approach of the allied column to the direct attack of the entrenchment upon the causeway, and perceiving the enemy in great force both in that entrenchment and in front of the village of Sinho, he marched his troops directly towards them, taking their position in flank, and threatening their line of retreat. Three Armstrongs, the half of Milward’s battery, were ordered to the front, covered by one company of the Buffs on each flank, and one in rear of the guns. The rest of the infantry were disposed in contiguous columns, with three other Armstrongs and Rotton’s rocket battery to protect their left flank, and Stirling’s battery on the right, while a troop of our cavalry was halted to guard the right rear, and watch their opportunity. The Coolie Corps, with reserve ammunition, hospital stretchers, &c., under protection of the left wing of the 67th Regi- [p. 86] ment, brought up the rear. The Tartar horsemen showed in great force; and as they stood in unbroken line before us, some 2,000 yards distant, were magnified by the mirage into giant warriors on giant steeds. The Armstrongs in front were ordered to advance and open fire at a range of 1,500 yards; and shell after shell burst over the devoted heads of the enemy, but the line remained unflinching for some minutes, closing up instantaneously the gaps that were made in their order by the murderous shells. Numbers of amateurs and idlers from the rear had advanced to see the effective play of the Armstrongs, and the delight was general to see how repeatedly it reached the wall of mounted men, who stood so long and so bravely discharging their wretched gingals at us without the slightest effect. At last a general move was observed among the enemy, a part edged off to the right and another to the left, their intention evidently being to surround us. Our cavalry on the right waited anxiously for a trial of strength with the Tartars, who were advancing in their direction; but they were disappointed, as the latter, after hesitating some minutes before approaching, finally retired in disorder under the sharp fire of Stirling’s Battery, which began to play on them. Those that had diverted to the left steadily approached the Buffs on the left front, apparently regardless of the fire of two of Milward’s [p. 87] guns, of the rifles of the advanced guard, and of Rotton’s rockets. They advanced to within 450 yards, and bore unflinchingly for a considerable time such a fire as would have tried any troops in the world; and a party of them galloping in a direction parallel to our columns, suddenly changed front, and charged the 4th Brigade. I was at this crisis dismounted from my pony, and, in company with the principal medical officer of our Division, perched on the top of a mound, watching proceedings, when we observed the enemy’s cavalry charging in our direction. Great consternation took place among the Coolie Corps. The coolies were all hastily huddled together in rear of the 67th and Marines, who were at once ordered to form a square by Brigadier Reeves. The doctor, who was rather a corpulent man, sprang like a lark from the mound, let free the bridle of his pony which he held in his hand, and rushed frantically into the square formed by the Marines, shouting out to me to follow if I would save my life. Quite verdant in the usages of war, and seeing an old campaigner so alarmed, I naturally shared the contagion; but being loath to part so easily with my valuable steed, I dragged him by the bridle, and attempted to introduce myself and beast into the square. The untamed Talien-wan [p. 88] animal, however, objected to be forced against his will into a dense mass of armed men, and the more I hauled the more he struggled. By this time the enemy were fast approaching, and orders were given to fire. The cracks of the rifles drove my beast nearly distracted, and he began to throw his heels about right and left to the complete disorder of our side of the square; while some of the Marines gave him a few friendly digs with their bayonets, preferring his room to his company. Seeing no help for it, I let loose the bridle, and off he scampered, neighing in great glee, accompanied by the doctors pony, in the direction of the enemy, who no doubt secured the pair, and carried them off as trophies of their day’s success to Tien-sin. The shots of the Tartars pitted about the ground, and some whizzed over our heads, but no one was hurt; whereas the firing on our side drew them up sharp before they came too near to be disagreeable to us, and after a brief space of indecision they retreated. The First Division and the French had now commenced storming the entrenched camp on our left, as the sound of heavy guns reached our ears from that quarter; and swarms of Tartar cavalry were observed rushing about ahead in all directions.# That Division had left Pehtang in command of Sir [p. 89] John Michel, at about 10.30 A.M., and marched in direct line along the causeway towards the entrenched camp at Sinho. The advance of this Division was led by Brigadier Stavely, with the 1st Infantry Brigade under his command, and, in addition, a company of Royal Engineers, an Armstrong battery, 1,000 French Infantry, and a French battery; the Second Brigade followed with two 9-pounder batteries and a rocket battery, succeeded by the main column of the French. On reaching the enemy’s second piquet-house, which is about 900 yards from their entrenched position, skirmishers of the 1st Royals were sent to the left, and some of the 31st to the right; and shortly afterwards. Colonel Barry’s battery of Armstrong guns and Captain Martin’s battery of 9-pounders (the whole under the command of Captain Desborough) opened fire on the enemy’s entrenchment at a distance of about 800 yards; a French battery being on the left, together with a French and English rocket battery.

 

After a cannonade of twenty-five minutes, the enemy’s cavalry were seen moving to their left from the entrenchments. The guns then advanced to within 500 yards, and played on the enemy’s position, as also on the cavalry, who were moving to the right. The fire of two Armstrong guns quickly dispersed their cavalry, and in a few minutes the advance was [p. 90] sounded and the enemy’s position found to be abandoned. Stirling’s half-battery attached to the Cavalry Brigade being unable to follow the movements of cavalry on such heavy ground, had been left with an escort of thirty of Fane’s Horse under Lieutenant Mac Gregor. A party of 100 Tartars suddenly charged the guns, and came on with such briskness that the Lieutenant had hardly time to prepare his men to receive the shock; but the little band of Sikhs under their gallant leader was too smart for their assailants, and they retired discomfited. Poor Mac Gregor, however, was severely wounded in the cheek and shoulder, and his face quite blackened by the discharge of a matchlock within a few yards of him. During the engagement our cavalry were not idle, but their horses were much too tired to overtake the Tartar galloways. Notwithstanding, several skirmishes occurred, which always terminated with severe loss on the enemy’s side. The First Division and the French were now in possession of the entrenched camp that commands the road from Pehtang to Sinho, and the skirmishers in our Division were taking farewell shots at the retiring Tartars, who streamed away in the direction of the Takoo Forts. We pushed on into the enclosed plain in front of Sinho, passing here and there a prostrate Tartar with lacerated body or limb in the agonies of death. [p. 91]

 

It was curious to observe the different effect such sights produced on the different individuals of the army as they passed along. The Coolie would run forward, and, turning over his dead or dying fellow countryman, point at his face and laugh, or rifle his pockets. The British soldier would remark — “Poor heathens! they little know our strength, though they have shown themselves brave fellows.” The officer would point to the brawny carcase before him, and remark, “Egad! what fine soldiers they would make, if properly drilled and led by plucky spirits”; and the surgeon, stooping down, would thrust his finger into the wound, and, extracting a piece of shell, observe, “Wonderful instrument that Armstrong!” To one, however, unaccustomed to the “cannon’s wild roar” and “the groans of the dying,” these scenes struck a kind of shuddering disgust; but the excitement on the occasion, which is truly contagious, soon obliterates all the finer feelings of humanity, and makes you exclaim with the rest, “The brutes, they deserve it all; they have brought it all on themselves, by their treachery last year at the Forts, and their subsequent duplicity.”

 

One veritable Mongolian was lying in our road with his leg broken in two places, evidently by the same shell. An angular piece of metal (of which each shell contains forty-two) had snapped his [p. 92] thigh in two; another had mangled the same leg below the knee; and a third had struck on the thick sole of his shoe. He was at once placed in a dhoolie, and supplied with brandy and water. The poor fellow was in great pain, and rolled about from side to side. He wore a blue button, a sign of the fifth rank, and appeared very reluctant to speak or to have anything to do with us. As he lay there in the midst of his agonies, the guide we had picked up at Pehtang went up to him with a jeer, and asked him if he did not think that the Tartars would be now convinced that our field-guns were very formidable. In the course of an hour or so, some good-natured doctor amputated the limb for him, but the operation soon resulted in his death.

 

The victory that the Tartars imagined they had gained on the day of the reconnaissance had made them wondrous brave; and considering that the fight on our side had been almost entirely sustained by artillery, their 6,000 or 7,000 cavalry, armed, for the most part, with bows and arrows, and spears, and only a small proportion with matchlocks, had behaved, as General Napier justly observed, “with courageous endurance.” They appeared very sanguine at first; but what could such a wretched crew do against 10,000 well-armed and disciplined English troops, supported by 5,000 French? Our loss was, conse- [p. 93] quently, trifling — two Sikhs killed and some dozen wounded; while the neighbouring plain for miles speckled with native corpses, showed that the day had fared ill with them. The loss of the enemy was variously estimated at from 100 to 500; but, as numbers of their wounded were carried off the field by their retreating comrades, and many others sent across the river in junks, it is impossible to make anything like an approximate guess. The Second Division was halted for some two hours in the enclosed plain in front of Sinho; and then orders were issued that the men might dispose themselves for the night. So, without tent or covering, and with only the amount of provisions our wallets contained, we endeavoured to make ourselves as jolly as the circumstances and the marshy ground would admit of. On our right was a small circular entrenched camp, protected by a mud wall that encircled it. A row of mud huts was disposed inside this wall, leaving an open space in the centre, which was now under water. The huts contained rags, strings of copper cash, rusty spears and swords, bows and arrows, and other implements of Chinese warfare, and a few Chinese delicacies in the way of food. But every structure bore more the appearance of a kennel than the habitation of a human being. Some of the soldiers must, however, have had a literary turn of mind, as scraps of [p. 94] writing in Chinese, Mongolian, and Manchurian were occasionally picked up, which showed at the same time the mixture of the races that must have wallowed together in these hovels. Another walled enclosure, hard by, was found to contain upwards of 200 shaggy Tartar ponies, apparently half-starved, and wretchedly thin; and an uncouth-looking beast, in the shape of a dromedary, fastened by a string through his nostrils to a post, stood towering above his equine brethren, denuded of hair and all bedaubed with mud, the very picture of misery. If these poor beasts were not well fed, it was through the carelessness of their masters, for close to the village stood an immense stack of fine hay, which came in handy to supply the famished chargers of the conquerors.

 

While endeavouring to show some little attention to the wounded victims of our Artillery, Major Probyn asked me to accompany him to an unhorsed Tartar a short distance off. I went, and found a wretched object indeed. The poor creature was kneeling in the mud, all dirty and stained with blood and gore: one hand was hanging to the wrist by a shred, his legs were broken, and the back of his head, gashed by a sabre cut, revealed the brain pulsating; and yet the poor wretch was in his senses and able to speak. I was asked to put some questions to him about the strength of the enemy’s force [p. 95] engaged that day, and on a variety of other subjects. The sufferer answered by beseeching us to kill him outright, and put him out of his misery. I declined tormenting him with any more questions, and seeing that death must soon relieve him, we left him. A few hours more and his spirit was gathered to his fathers.

 

The Generals, meanwhile, were surveying their position from the wall of the entrenched camp that the First Division held. About three miles in the direction of Takoo, another entrenched camp appeared to encircle the village of Tangkoo. The road thither led by a raised causeway, with a ditch on either side. On the left was marshy ground, such as we had passed already; and on the right, the plain was intersected by numerous ditches and creeks. The country was impracticable for artillery, and the men, too, were tired after their hard morning’s march. Sir Hope Grant, therefore, determined on deferring the attack; but General Montauban, not being content with the child’s play of the morning, was too eager to commence operations at once on Tangkoo, and, if possible, to push on to the forts. The latter, therefore, sallied out with the French troops, supported by the 60th Rifies and 15th Punjaubees, and opened fire with the rifled cannon at the range of 1,800 yards. The Chinese answered the fire very sharply; so the [p. 96] French General, after about an hour’s amusement, returned, and made up his mind also to pass the night in the neighbourhood of Sinho.

 

A mild evening soon gave place to a damp, dewy night; but as Dr. Thompson, the principal medical officer of our Division, was kind enough to lend me a blanket, I rolled myself up in it, and, in defiance of the moist atmosphere above and the humid earth beneath, enjoyed a good rest. Next morning, the sun rose in all his splendour and soon warmed the chill from our bones as we sat sipping our cocoa on a grave mound, the sides of which had afforded us a raised pillow during the night. We strolled in the direction of Sinho. This village is situated on the side of a narrow canal, or, more properly, a ditch, which flows from the Peiho, some half-mile distant, through an orchard. Several small junks were high and dry in the mud of this creek, and crowded with men, women, and children from the village. A broad road led from Sinho in the direction of Tien-sin, with a wet trench on either side. But how different the scenery on the right to that on the left! On the latter side, an interminable flat marsh stretched towards Pehtang and along the river that flows past that village, as far as the eye could see, dotted here and there with conical grave mounds; while on the Peiho side, orchards, girt with hedges of a most [p. 97] refreshing green, lined both banks of the river. How delightful the change from the never-ending sterile mud of Pehtang to the leafy view before us! We entered the orchards, and for a while revelled among their pleasant mazes. Watermelons, peaches, Cape gooseberries, and a variety of vegetables were growing in abundance. We then walked through the village, which consisted chiefly of one long winding street of shops. Every house had been broken into, and its contents tumbled about. Only a few of the poorest inhabitants remained, and these were in great consternation, though the General had purposely avoided quartering his men in the town.

 

We also visited the defences on the road towards Pehtang, which the First Division and French had stormed. They merely consisted of a long arc-shaped, crenellated wall stretching on either side of the road, which passed right through it. Several of the arch-roofed mud huts were disposed about for the accommodation of the Tartar troops, and a very large blue awning set up on poles stood in the centre for the use of the mandarin in command of the cavalry, or for San-kolinsin himself. The mud huts were constructed by a series of bundles of long reeds curved into a semicircle with either end fixed into the ground, and so forming a roof, which was then thatched over with a coating of mud and chopped [p. 98] straw. The front and rear were fixed up with mud and reeds, leaving a square hole behind for a window, and a larger oblong one in front for a door, in which wooden frames were fitted; the one serving for a window being papered, and the one that answered for a door covered, as the rest of the building, with mud and rushes. The enemy had no large guns in this position, and appear to have had no infantry at all within its walls. So that both the entrenched camps captured at Sinho were merely strong cavalry outposts.

 

Orders had been sent to Pehtang for the baggage to be conveyed to the front, and before evening all the troops were under canvas. During the night of the 13th, as we lay encamped in that dreary-looking plain, two alarms occurred. The first was occasioned by our out-piquet on the right opening fire at what they took to be a party of mounted Tartars. Every one in the Division was at once up; orders were given to the men to fall in, and we fully expected that the enemy were upon us, and that a melee in the dark would occur. The Brigade-Major rode out and found that the piquet had formed a square and was in a great state of alarm. The enemy, if enemy they were, thought better of the matter and retired. After shivering in the night air for the spaoe of half an hour, the alarm subsided and all hands turned in [p. 99] again. But our nocturnal slumbers were doomed again to be broken, for scarce an hour had elapsed when a wretched mule got loose, and, galloping about the camp, gave utterance to its small neigh, which in the most tranquil times is apt to startle a person unaccustomed to the musical performances of this hybrid quadruped, and consequently such sounds in the dark dead of night were more apt to strike the already slackened nerves of the men with terror. A cry was raised that the Tartars were yelling and galloping about the camp. Great consternation prevailed; the men once more fell in, and the officers stood ready for an engagement, pistol in hand. The Brigade-Major was again about, and, finding the alarm to be a false one, the men were cautioned not to give way to such childish fears; and all retired, as before, with the determination not to stir again unless there was actual need. A Tartar spy had ridden up to a sentry the day previous and been taken prisoner, and this fact may have wrought upon the men’s minds the suspicion that a night attack was intended. The prisoner referred to was an elderly man with perfect Chinese visage, very dirtily clad in ordinary native jacket and long frock. On his head he wore a cap, shaped like the mandarin winter cap, but without the loose red silk on the crown, and adorned instead with two cats’ tails attached [p. 100] to the top and pointing backwards, the usual badge of the Tartar cavalry. He was armed with a rusty sword and spear, and mounted on a wooden saddle, with large circular-soled iron stirrups attached by leather thongs. The saddle was kept on the pony’s back by means of two narrow leather girths, one round the animal’s belly and the other close behind the fore-legs. The pony’s headgear was of leather, roughly put together with hobnails, supporting a rough iron bit, and commanded by a single rein of rope covered with cloth. The pony was a strong little filly, of a breed closely allied to the Shetland. The rider, so far as I could understand from the frequent use of the canine letter in his speech (for he could not speak a word of Chinese), was a Mongolian. We could consequently make nothing of him, and he was handed over to the guard as a prisoner of war. The corporal, as he gave the pony’s bridle to one of his men, and marched the Tartar off between the other two, apostrophized with a sneer and a grunt, “Sure, and are these our inimies?”

 

Soon after daybreak, the Adjutant-General gave us notice to march at 5.30 a.m., as Tangkoo was to be stormed that morning by the First Division, and the Second Division was to halt between that village and Sinho, to be held in reserve in case of need. I had no particular duty to perform, so I hastened on, [p. 101] passed the troops as they marched through Sinho, and endeavoured to get as good a view of the affair as circumstances would admit. A causeway, as I before remarked, ran from Sinho to Tangkoo, some three miles in length, on the left of which the ground presented a vast muddy flat, while the right offered a low, moist plain, intersected by ditches which had now been bridged over by our engineers, and was separated from the river by a line of orchards extending close to Tangkoo itself; the fortifications of which place consisted of a long, semicircular crenellated wall, three miles in length, terminating both ends on the banks of the river. The attack was made from the right of the causeway; the English on the right, near the river; the French along the road. Barry’s battery of Armstrongs, and Desborough’s 9-pounders, took the extreme right, while Milward’s Armstrongs and Govans battery the centre. Trenches had been dug on the night previous, within 700 yards of the wall, to give cover to the riflemen. The guns in front were supported by 200 Rifles, in skirmishing order, under the command of Major Bigaud. The Royals and 31st followed, and then the Queen’s, 60th Rifles, and 15th Punjaubees. About a mile below Sinho, the river takes a bend to the south, and then trending round to the north again, washes close to Tangkoo. At the first [p. 102] bend, the Tartars had constructed a battery, which kept annoying the flank of the advancing column. Two of Barry’s Armstrongs were sent to silence this battery; but the range being only 250 yards, our firing was somewhat ineffective; and so three of Desborough’s 24-pounders were detailed to take the place of the Armstrongs, and they soon effectually put a stop to its annoyance. Another battery, lower down the reach, opened fire, and some junks moored in the river also kept taking “pot” shots at the troops. The task of silencing these was committed to the hands of some of the gallant Navy, and soon the work was completed. Some officers of the Chesapeake, with twenty men, crossed the river in a junk, and having spiked the guns in the battery, set the obtrusive junks on fire. The battery was found to contain two 12-pounder and five 6-pounder iron guns. Some Tartars appeared round the comer on horseback; these the brave tars peppered well with their pistols before they recrossed to the other bank. In the affray, one of the sailors was wounded by a bullet through the arm. Meanwhile the column advanced and the guns opened fire, at about 800 yards distance, on the entrenched camp. The Chinese replied with spirit with their gingals and some heavy guns, and the contest lasted hot and angry for some time; but they had forty-two guns, French and English, to [p. 103] contend with, and it soon became apparent to which side the victory inclined. A lull ensued, which our people took advantage of to approach nearer and then repeat their deadly fire. At last the Chinese guns were silenced, and Sir John Michel ordered up the Infantry, who poured into the fortress across a dam that stopped the flow of the ditch. The Rifles were first in, and bowled over the Tartars as they scampered with precipitancy from the wall, across the open, into the village, while rockets, whizzing through the air over their heads, in graceful curve, spread dismay among their retiring numbers and accelerated their speed. The fugitives escaped, along a causeway, to a village farther down the river, whence they crossed, by means of a floating bridge, to the village of Takoo. The French, as usual, claimed the merit of having first entered the fortification, and General Montauban promoted the first Frenchman in; but it is very certain that our troops were within the walls while the French guns were still bombarding the place. I hurried past the troops as they crowded over the dam. A large space of ground was enclosed by the crenellated wall between it and the village, consisting of mud and pools of salt water, as at Pehtang. Numerous mud-built huts lined the foot of the wall, and between the gate and the village stood a larger, square-shaped cabin. [p. 104] he residence, evidently, of the mandarin in command. Numbers of dead Chinese lay about the guns, some most fearfully lacerated. The wall afforded very little protection to the Tartar gunners, and it was astonishing how they managed to stand so long against the destructive fire that our Armstrongs poured upon them; but I observed, in more instances than one, that the unfortunate creatures had been tied to the guns by the legs. This seems almost incredible; but several officers and myself saw the poor victims lying dead or dying thus tied to the weapons they were employed to use against us. All the dead had the white circular badge of the Chinese soldier on the breast and back of their coats, with characters signifying that they belonged to the camp of the General of Chihlee, and wooden tickets, marked with the same characters and the number of their position in the army, dangling from their girdles. Large baskets of powder, and shot of various sizes, lay near the guns, ready for use, with small flasks of finer powder, gun-pricks, and long coils of lighted fusee.

 

The whole length of wall mounted forty-five pieces of artillery, of which sixteen were brass guns and the remainder iron; the brass guns were of various calibre, from 4 and 6 to 24-pounders, and generally well made; the iron guns were mostly small. [p. 105] The Chinese force within these works was variously estimated by the Generals at from 2,000 to 6,000, but their loss on the occasion it is difficult to set down with anything like accuracy. Dozens of bodies lay about the guns, dozens of others were found in the ditch that encircled the entrenchment, while numbers had crawled into the village to die, to say nothing of the scores that were carried down the river in junks, or conveyed away by the retreating force. No cavalry was observed, though one enclosed series of huts was found to contain a host of wooden saddles and native horse-gear, sufficient to equip a large number of troopers. It was wonderful, notwithstanding the hot fire of the enemy, how little injury had been inflicted on our side. Not a single man was killed, only three English gunners wounded and about a dozen French, General Michel had his horse killed under him. I hastened into the village. The looting had commenced; numbers of Frenchmen were rushing about the streets with bayonets fixed, breaking into doors right and left, and ransacking houses. After about an hours delay the First Division and French were withdrawn to their old encampment in the plain between Sinho and Tangkoo, and General Napier’s Division were ordered to install themselves in the houses of the village just captured. The Deputy-Assistant Quartermaster-General at once set [p. 106] to work, and marked off the different houses to the different regiments and individuals, and the baggage coming up shortly after, each person was enabled to make himself at home in his new quarters. Most of the houses contained provisions and water, and many even warm tea, an evidence of the procrastinated departure of their occupants, and the streets swarmed with pigs. Parties were told off to capture the pigs, which soon ended in every poor swine being slaughtered; for the soldiers, glad of a spree, showed no mercy to the victims of their sport, and consequently much more meat was killed than could be consumed by the force in a week. The superfluous animals were left where they were slaughtered in the roads and highways, and, as the weather was hot, their carcases soon became offensive. General Napier and Staff were quartered in the chief temple of the village, the “San-kwan-miaou,” or temple of the three mandarins, facing the river; thence, crossing a ditch by means of a wooden bridge, a road followed the bend of the river (which here turned sharp away from the village in a south-easterly direction), and led to the gate of the works some 600 yards off. From the top of the wall at this gate you observed the raised road leading through a large mud flat to a small fortified group of houses, about two miles distant, opposite the long straggling village of Takoo, in the centre of which [p. 107] was a large two-storied pagoda, the head-quarters of San-kolinsin and Staff; and still farther on, the forts themselves, gloomy and threatening, flaunting numerous flags in defiance. Sir Hope Grant was in no hurry to push on his victorious arms, and attempt to carry these formidable fortresses at once, at the sacrifice of a great many men; but, like a prudent Scotchman, he preferred abiding his time, and waiting till proper reconnaissances had been made, heavy guns well set, and other preparations completed, before he showed the natives the metal we were made of. The work before him was one that required good engineering, and who better for this work than his trusty colleague General Napier, who had distinguished himself as a skillful officer in the Bengal Engineers? On this account, to the Second Division was specially assigned the making of the necessary preparations for the capture of Takoo. This we all felt would involve a lapse of several days and a long stay at Tangkoo, so we endeavoured to make ourselves comfortable. Two companies of the Buffs were posted at the gates leading to Takoo, under the gallant Colonel Sargent, whose experience in the China war of 1842 made him the better able to fulfil the duties of so important a station.

 

Soon after our capture of Tangkoo, the enemy deserted the small entrenched camp we spoke of on [p. 108] the road to the northern forts, and betaking themselves across the water by means of the floating bridge, broke up the apparatus, and withdrew the boats that formed it into the docks at the Takoo village. A large gun, mounted on the fortress, at the comer of Takoo village, at the end of the reach of the river, kept plumping an occasional shot into the streets. No damage was done, and after a few repetitions, the Chinese got tired of the fun, and desisting, suffered us to make the best of our new possession.

 

The first thought of General Napier’s after the immediate arrangements for the comfort of the troops were attended to, was for the suffering natives of the village. One series of huts was specially set apart for the reception of these people, and a medical officer appointed to attend them. Parties were then sent throughout the village to search for the wounded natives, and for all that still lingered through age, imbecility, or other cause; and thus, in a short time, all the helpless and destitute were taken under our charge, and a dirtier and more motley group eye never beheld: women, old and young, ugly and pretty, children and men of all shapes, sizes, and ages, some with horrible wounds and the ghastly agony of death on their faces, but all on their knees weeping and trembling with fear. In the afternoon, some mounted men were seen issuing from the [p. 109] entrenched camp beyond, who were at once hailed by a shower of bullets, until they produced a white flag. The party turned out to be the escort of a small mandarin of the sixth rank, with white button and peacock’s feather, who was the bearer of two letters from the governor of the province to Lord Elgin and Baron Gros. The mounted guard halted some 300 yards off, and dismounted, while the mandarin and some magnates of the village of Takoo that accompanied him, dressed respectably in white grass cloth frocks, came forward and met myself and some others inside the gate. Colonel Sargent, who went out with me, took the letters, but refused to grant a receipt for them, for which the mandarin so urgently entreated.

 

The village chiefs advanced and took up their parable, lamenting the misunderstandings that existed between us and their Government, and that they should be innocent sufferers. They asked me if there was no hope of an amicable settlement before our wrath was wreaked on the Takoo natives. I told them that I was sure no harm would happen to the villagers if they remained neutral, that our quarrel was purely with the governing party and not with the governed, and our object to lower the pride of those menacing batteries yonder. But as they trembled at the prospect of their own miseries, they would surely commiserate the sufferings of their wretched [p. 110] fellow-countrymen at present in our hands, house-less and homeless. They would at once show their good feeling by taking charge of them. They replied that if there were any villagers remaining in our hands they would, of course, be only too glad to see them cared for. Accordingly, I returned, and with the General’s permission, escorted out of the gates all that were not wounded. Those of the natives who were able to walk were only too glad to go, and hurried off. Among them was one stout old lady, who had a grown-up daughter lying prostrate on a stretcher with a sprained thigh. The mother hurried off without even bidding adieu to her daughter. The poor girl (rather a pretty face by the way) cried after her, “Oh, mother! mother! don’t leave me here to die”; but the relentless mother turned a deaf ear to the cry. I tried to comfort the poor girl, but she was inconsolable, and finding no hope for it, I had her carried out by two of her stout countrymen, as she lay on the stretcher. Another case was that of an emaciated old woman with one foot in the grave, who in helpless second childhood lay there perfectly unconscious of all that was going on around her. And another of a plump little infant, just able to walk, whom nobody would own. We had both these carried out and delivered over with the rest of the party, some thirty in number, to the mandarin. This [p. 111] functionary questioned each one, whether he or she had friends in Takoo to whom they could go. They all answered in the affirmative, except the old woman and the little boy, both of whom were children, so to speak, and unable to articulate. He shook the old creature, and being able to make nothing of her, turned round to me with an affected laugh — “What would you have me do with this insensible old block?” said he. “See her taken care of,” I replied; “she is one of your countrywomen.” He rejoined with a shrug of his shoulders, “I cannot afford to feed her, and I am sure no one else will. You must look after her yourselves.” With that he turned on his heel, followed by the swells in the long frocks, and in their wake the ragged crowd. The old woman and the boy alone remained. I rushed after them, and cried out, “If you will not take the old woman, you must take the infant here. He is probably the child of one of your soldiers.” The mandarin stopped and gave orders to have the child carried after him, but they had not proceeded far before we observed them set down the little creature in the mud and leave him. Colonel Sargent gave utterance, in a smothered voice, to something that sounded like “brutes,” and sent a soldier to bring back the boy, who was crying piteously, and the infant and the old lady were restored to their former asylum. [p. 112]

 

Our plenipotentiaries returned no answer to the letters of the Governor, and on the day following another flag of truce appeared with more letters. But no answer again. On the third day another flag of truce, and still more letters, with an intimation that they had some prisoners of ours, which they would return to us forthwith. They were as good as their word, and soon restored to us a sergeant of the Buffs and a Madras Sapper. Both had suffered much from bad treatment, and could not stand, their wrists and ankles being fearfully lacerated from the effects of the tight cords that bound them. The sergeant for some time talked wildly, and was evidently out of his senses.

 

The next day Lord Elgin sent a letter in the hands of Mr. Parkes and some others to the entrenched camp opposite Takoo with a flag of truce. They stood on the bank of the river and waved the flag, and soon a boat was sent across for them. On landing on the other side they were shown into the presence of Hang-fuh, the Governor of Cheli, and held a conversation with him; in the course of which arrangements were made for the return of certain Cantonese of the Coolie Corps that they held prisoners, in exchange for the wounded and others of their people in our hands. The Governor declared that commissioners were on their way down to treat [p. 113] for peace, and tried hard to procure a promise that hostilities should be deferred until Lord Elgin should meet with them. The Chinese were on this account anxious to propitiate us by the exchange of prisoners. On the afternoon of the same day the thirteen coolies were returned to us, and the wounded natives in our hands consigned to the tender mercies of the White Button. It was a sorry sight to see the emaciated appearance of these poor Canton-men, and the frightful festering wounds on their bodies. One unfortunate man who was at once brought in on the shoulders of a red jacket had his head split open. The gashed skull laid bare the brain beneath, about the surface of which huge maggots were crawling. It was a sickening sight, and loud were the objurgations of the troops, as these wounded, limping wretches passed through them, against the cruelty of the enemy. But it was a wonder to all that they had not fared worse, when we considered how savagely cruel the Chinese usually are to their rebel countrymen, and in no other light could they have looked upon the Cantonese, whom they firmly believed to form no insignificant ingredient in our army. The only way to account for their deviation in this instance from their usual system of murdering outright was that they entertained hopes by a show of mildness to allay our dreaded wrath. [p. 114]

 

The capture of the foreigners and Cantonese by the Tartars, so far as we could gather from the incoherent statements of the different parties, happened in this wise. A sergeant of the 44th, and a private of the Buffs, with two Madras Sappers, on the day of the first fight, had left Pehtang in charge pf the grog for the troops, which was carried by sixteen Cantonese coolies. They started somewhat after the troops, and being either foot-sore or the worse for liquor, sat down to rest themselves, and fell asleep. On rousing, they missed their way, and marched in the direction of some cavalry they observed at a distance, whom they took to be Sikhs. As it turned out, they were Tartars, two of whom came galloping up, and being fired at by the foreigners, returned to the main body, and brought several more with them. On seeing the large number pf horsemen coming against them, the Buffs’ man exclaimed to his comrade, “Ah! my boy, we shall larn the grand sacret soon”; and assisted by the two Madrassees they fired at the advancing enemy. In the affray that ensued the private was killed and two of the coolies mortally wounded; a third escaped. The rest were all taken prisoners and carried to Tien-tsin, and on the road the Tartars murdered one of the Madrassees, and sacrificed him before a temple, or “two poles,” as the coolies expressed it (each temple of any size [p. 115] having two high poles erected in front). The sergeant and remaining Sapper were carried in the same cart, the coolies in two or three others. They were exhibited as captives of war in Tien-tsin and badly beaten; the coolies had their tails cut off, and then all were brought back to Takoo, whence they were restored to us.

In the different mandarin residences of Sinho and Tangkoo, Chinese letters and other documents were discovered, which laid open to us the train of Chinese ideas on our relations with them. One of these was a decree, dated the 27th March, 1860, from the “Great Council of Pekin” to San-kolinsin, generalissimo of the Forces, and to Hang-fuh, governor of Cheli, enclosing the ultimatum handed to the Chinese Government by Mr. Bruce at Shanghai, with some extracts from the newspapers. It comments on the rebellious language of the “Barbarians,” and goes on to say that Ho has been directed to answer them. The fact is then mentioned that “Barbarian” ships are surveying the coast in the neighbourhood of Takoo to find a landing-place, and then quotes the news from the newspapers, as stated in Commissioner He’s letter, that an invasion of 30,000 men is projected with a view to capturing the forts, and alludes to a debate in the “Barbarian” House of Commons on the subject of the war, also [p. 116] mentioned in Ho’s letter. The translation of the decree then runs thus:

 

Considering that Messrs. Bruce and Bourbillon are inseparables in dishonesty, by nature sanguinary and treacherous, and seeing the ferocity and trickiness of their dispositions, when mention is made of their forces being increased with a view of taking the forts, it would be wrong not to stand on our guard. Let Prince San-kolinsin, therefore, look to it, and let the extracts from the newspapers be given to him to read. With regard to the Russian Barbarians, who come to the coast in vessels of war, they must be warned to go away, as the coast is put on the defensive.The reply of San-kolinsin and Hang-fuh to the above is to the effect that the Barbarians will not venture again to attack the forts in front; they will in all probability land at Pehtang, which is unprotected; but in crossing the plains towards Sinho, the invincible Tartar cavalry are so disposed that they would find no difficulty in cutting up 30,000 such troops as the Barbarians possess; but if by any extraordinary good luck they should succeed in passing Sinho, then they would most certainly run their heads against the forts as they did last year. They go on to say that they put little faith in the bragging reports of the Barbarians’ forces as set forth in their papers, or of their intention to try the fortune of war again at the forts; [p. 117] that their boasted announcement of preparations on a grand scale is made with the hope of alarming the Emperor and his mandarins, and to mask the cowardly fear under which the English and French were suffering since the defeat of 1859; for if they were really increasing their force this year to avenge themselves, they would never have allowed the slightest rumour of their intentions to get abroad at Shanghai.

One naturally wonders how a people, so indifferent to the topic of foreign politics as the Chinese officials, should have managed to acquaint themselves with the speeches relating to them delivered in the House of Commons and published in the newspapers; but the mandarins immediately connected with our people at the Northern ports must naturally have felt alarmed at the fact of our not having sued for peace after the defeat at Takoo; and knowing that the foreigner was a very porcupine when his blood was up, and observing that no immediate preparations were being made in any of the Five Ports, they turned for information on the subject to shroffs and teachers employed in different foreign establishments, who, doubtless, questioned their masters, and were supplied with the necessary details. These, again, were transmitted to Pekin on inquiries being made how the Barbarians behaved at their trading marts, and so [p. 118] reached the Grand Council; hence the issue of the decree to Hang-fuh and San-kolinsin above referred to.

Many of the Chinese clerks in European offices are capable of reading and writing English, though seldom with much proficiency; and these men are frequently employed by the mandarins for culling information which may throw light on their foreign relations. These men are accessible to bribes from all quarters, and there is consequently a difficulty to preserve reticence, even on mercantile matters.

In another letter the General of the Province acquaints the Governor of his successful sally against the Barbarians on the day of the reconnaissance, and of his forbearance to inflict too severe a defeat for fear of interfering with Hang-fuh’s diplomatic plans for soothing their Barbarian anger. Hang-fuh replies that he does not wish diplomacy to interfere with the General s measures, and that he trusts that the General will do his utmost to maintain his positions at Sinho and Tangkoo, as they form the key to the forts. Before closing his letter, he offers large rewards for the capture of the Barbarian chiefs and soldiers, that he might traffic with them in the hopes of bringing the enemy to terms.

The capture of Lord Elgin is especially enjoined, as on the success of such an attempt depended the immediate termination of the war. [p. 119]