A Christian Hero
LIEUT.-COLONEL SETON CHURCHILL
Author of "Stepping-Stones to Higher Things," Etc.
13th Edition (Completing 41,000 Copies)
London James Nisbet & Co., Limited 21 Berners Street
Printed by Ballantyne, Hanson & Co. At the Ballantyne Press, Edinburgh
YOUNG MEN OF ENGLAND
WITH THE EARNEST DESIRE THAT SOME OF THE NOBLE GODLIKE CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS
CHRISTIAN SOLDIER AND HERO
MAY BE REPRODUCED IN FUTURE GENERATIONS
I. INTRODUCTION 1
II. EARLY LIFE AND CRIMEAN WAR 12
III. CHINESE WAR AND TAIPING REBELLION 25
IV. GORDON'S FIRST COMMAND 36
V. PROGRESS OF THE REBELLION 50
VI. END OF THE REBELLION 65
VII. AT GRAVESEND 80
VIII. GORDON'S SIMPLE FAITH 92
IX. HIS CATHOLICITY 114
X. GOVERNOR OF THE EQUATORIAL PROVINCE 135
XI. GOVERNOR-GENERAL OF THE SOUDAN 157
XII. ABYSSINIA, INDIA, AND CHINA 178
XIII. MAURITIUS, CAPE, AND PALESTINE 190
XIV. KHARTOUM 209
XV. THE SIEGE 230
XVI. THE FALL OF KHARTOUM 246
XVII. CONCLUSION 263
LIFE OF GORDON
Lord Wolseley, on hearing an officer say that General Gordon was mad, remarked, in language similar to that used by George II. to the Duke of Newcastle about General Wolfe, that it was a great pity Gordon had not bitten more Generals, so that they might have been infected with some of his madness. Nor is there any reason why the motive power which could make a man do such noble deeds and lead such a splendid life should be confined to Generals. There are thousands of young men in this country who may be helped to live better lives by the study of such a Christian hero as Charles George Gordon undoubtedly was, and it is with that end in view that I have endeavoured to write a popular sketch of his life and character.
My object in adding to the number of biographies already written of General Gordon is to meet the demand for a popular book for young men and others, which will focus the events of his life into one handy volume, and which shall at the same time give a clear insight into the religious life of this Christian hero. This I have attempted to combine with a sketch of his military, political, and social life, setting forth not only the deeds of the man, but the motive which prompted them. The best writers on Gordon have taken up parts of his life only, so that no one can get a view of it as a whole without wading through a large number of volumes, some of them very ponderous. The best record of his career in China is a work by Mr. Andrew Wilson called "The Ever-Victorious Army." A smaller book by Mr. W. E. Lilley gives an interesting account of Gordon's life at Gravesend. The first part of his life in Africa is given in a larger volume by Dr. G. Birkbeck Hill, called "Colonel Gordon in Central Africa." The late Prebendary Barnes edited a small book, "Reflections in Palestine," and Mr. A. Egmont Hake has published a complete account of the hero's career at Khartoum in "The Journals of General Gordon," which were given to him in manuscript to be edited. In addition to this valuable work, the same writer, who is a distant cousin of Gordon's, has written two large volumes, embracing the whole of his life, under the title "The Story of Chinese Gordon."
 In certain points where I have differed from other writers, I have relied on the opinion of a near relative of the late General Gordon, as to the accuracy of the statements put forward.
The late Sir Henry Gordon has also written a biography; but though an able man and very fond of his brother, it is not generally considered that he did full justice to his memory. The brothers were widely separated in age, there being fourteen years between them; and owing to the younger one having spent so much of his life abroad, they had not seen much of each other. Colonel Sir William F. Butler has written the ablest and most interesting of all the biographies which embrace the whole of Gordon's life, but as he is a Roman Catholic, it could not be expected that he would enter largely into the religious views of his hero. The remarks he does make on the subject are, however, excellent and in good taste. Another capital sketch of Gordon has been produced by the celebrated war correspondent Archibald Forbes, who not unnaturally devotes most of his space to the military aspect of Gordon's career, and says but little about his religious life. From the religious standpoint the best information can be got from the "Letters of General Gordon to his Sister," edited by Miss Gordon. There seems to have been a special bond of sympathy between the brother and sister, and she seems to have been made the recipient of all his confidences, religious and otherwise.
In order to get a clear and accurate conception of Gordon's many-sided character, I have made myself acquainted with all these authorities on the subject. There is another little book to which I am indebted—"Letters from Khartoum," written by the late Frank Power, correspondent of the Times at Khartoum during the siege. It gives a good insight into Gordon's life in the beleaguered city. I have further had the advantage of hearing many anecdotes and incidents that throw a light upon the personality of one who undeniably ranks amongst the great men of the century. Nevertheless I feel that to represent the religious and professional life of a man like Gordon, who was so essentially original and unlike other people, is a very difficult task, so I have, as far as possible, quoted his own words in giving expression to his views.
The play of "Hamlet" without its leading character could not be more deficient than a sketch of the life of General Gordon without a careful setting-forth of his religious views. It would be impossible to point to one in this nineteenth century who was a more complete living embodiment of the truth contained in the text, "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." He was a man of faith, a man of prayer, a devout student of the Word of God; and though he was in the world, and took far more than his share of the ordinary duties of life, he was not of the world. Mr. Gladstone was right when he said from his seat in the House of Commons, "Such examples are fruitful in the future, and I trust that there will grow from the contemplation of that character and those deeds other men who in future time may emulate his noble and most Christian example." Gordon must ever remain a mystery to those who have not got the key to his character, and my desire is simply to place that key in the hands of young men, so that they may study him for themselves, and may learn to turn to the same source whence he derived his wisdom and his force of character.
Such noble examples are not often seen, for Christian heroes in this world are all too few. It is, then, our bounden duty to take pains that the example set by one who has been termed "the youngest of the saints" shall not be lost on the young men who come after him, and who have not had the privilege of seeing him and knowing him while alive.
"Lives of great men all remind us We can make our lives sublime, And, departing, leave behind us Footprints in the sands of time."
Goodness in the abstract we are all prepared to admire; but while we do this, how often we are tempted to declare it an impossible thing to live up to a high standard. God, recognising the weakness of human nature, sent His only-begotten Son to reveal the Father, and show us a life of goodness in human form. He has further descended to our weakness by permitting us from time to time to see in our midst living examples of how Christians can follow out the principles of Christ. The Apostle Paul in one of his Epistles urges his readers to follow him even as he followed Christ. Good men have their failings, and these we are to avoid; but while doing so, we should aim at imitating that which is good and noble and Christlike in their characters. It is a great privilege to be permitted to come in contact with living men of the type of Gordon, but that privilege is only for the few. As the great majority of our fellow-creatures are denied it, the next best thing for them is to be able to read about these heroes, and thus endeavour to catch their spirit. Some are inclined to sneer at biographies, and to say that, speaking generally, they set forward only the good part of the character of their subjects, omitting all that is faulty. To a certain extent this is undoubtedly true, owing to the very nature of things; but, on the other hand, it must be remembered that it is only the good that we are to follow, and therefore it is useless to direct attention to a man's failings.
There have been few men who have attained to eminence whose inner life could be closely investigated and betray so few faults as did Gordon's. The late Sir Stafford Northcote (afterwards Lord Iddesleigh), leader of the Conservative Opposition in the House of Commons at the time of Gordon's death, only expressed the literal truth when he said: "General Gordon was a hero, and permit me to say he was still more—he was a hero among heroes. For there have been men who have obtained and deserved the praise of heroism whose heroism was manifested on the field of battle or in other conflicts, and who, when examined in the tenor of their personal lives, were not altogether blameless; but if you take the case of this man, pursue him into privacy, investigate his heart and his mind, you will find that he proposed to himself not any ideal of wealth and power, or even fame, but to do good was the object he proposed to himself in his whole life, and on that one object it was his one desire to spend his existence."
But though Gordon's inner life was so thoroughly open to investigation, there was something about him that made him very human. He had his full share of faults, and a quickness of temper which manifested itself unmistakably on occasions. He had also that kind of hasty impatience to which men are liable who are themselves quick at taking in ideas, or seeing how a thing should be done, when they are brought into contact with others of a slower temperament. He was painfully conscious of his own defects, and judged them far more severely than other people would do.
What made him so really great was the happy combination of so many virtues with a corresponding absence of ordinary defects. There have been Christians as earnest and devout as he; there have been soldiers as brave and capable; there have been men as kind-hearted; but there have been few who, while combining all of these good points and many more, have exhibited so complete an absence of the numerous defects which blemish the characters of most great men. The late Prebendary Barnes, who was very intimate with him, remarks that "there are no popular illusions to be dispelled" as one studies his inner life. Sir John Lubbock in one of his lectures says of Napoleon, that he was a man of genius, but not a hero. Now, while Gordon was essentially a genius, he was even more essentially a hero. True heroism is inseparably associated with self-sacrifice. A man may be as brave as a bulldog, yet be entirely wanting in all that goes to make him a hero. The dictionary definition by no means embraces all that the word implies. Lord Wolseley in a magazine article remarked that he had met but two heroes in his eventful life; one of them was that noble Christian officer General Lee, who commanded the Southerners in the American War, and the other was Gordon. It was his complete forgetfulness of self, his entire willingness to sink his own individuality, his own comfort, his own position, his good name, that made Gordon so Christlike, and lifted him above the level of his fellows. We are accustomed to read of brave men, of original thinkers, of great statesmen, of men of genius in different departments of life, but we seldom read of one who was so entirely free from what Milton calls the last infirmity of great men—the love of fame—that he was willing to be nothing that the cause he had espoused might triumph. When Columbus first saw the River Orinoco, some one remarked to him that he must have discovered an island. His reply was, "No such river as that flows from an island; that mighty torrent must drain the waters of a continent;" and his prediction proved to be correct. When we see the deep stream of true heroism flowing from the heart of such a man as Gordon, we instinctively feel that no mere human heart could produce such a torrent of good works, but that behind the human being there must be something more. It has been my object in this memoir to show that the stream that went forth from Gordon's heart to cheer and bless all with whom he came in contact, sprang from no isolated fountain, but had its origin in the great ocean of Divine love, which has existed in all ages, but was revealed more distinctly on Calvary.
* * *
This is a material, sceptical age, when many pride themselves on their want of faith, quite forgetting that to believe too little is as clearly an indication of mental weakness as to believe too much. God suddenly raised up a man in our midst who was as strong in faith as he was indifferent to the material things of this world. It was indeed his faith in things eternal and unseen that made him so indifferent to things temporal. Gordon might have lived and died amongst us without being known beyond a limited circle, but that his Master placed him on high so that men should be compelled to hear about his life. Sir William Butler in his interesting book, "The Campaign of the Cataracts," does not at all exaggerate when he says:—
"Who is this far-off figure looming so large between the rifts in the dense leaguer which the Arab has drawn around Khartoum? We cannot save him with all this host and all this piled-up treasure; but, behold! our failure shall be his triumph; for God has raised a colossal pedestal in the midst of this vast desert, and placing upon it His noblest Christian knight, has lighted around the base the torch of Moslem revolt, so that all men through coming time may know the greatness of His soldier."
In spite, however, of the fact that many failed to appreciate him while he was alive, we may be thankful to think that there is much good left in Old England yet; for when the events of his noble career were made public, there was a widespread feeling of regret that we had as a nation failed to value adequately a man of so much true nobility.
In an interesting article in "The Young Man," Mr. William T. Stead hit off the prominent characteristic of the hero's life when he said: "General Gordon taught the world that it is possible to be good without being goody-goody. That it is possible to live like a Christ and to die like a Christ for your fellow-men, without going out of the world or refusing to do your own fair share of the day's work of the world, is one of those truths which need to be revealed anew to each successive generation by the practical demonstration of an actual life." Gordon was essentially a manly man, but with all his courage and bravery he combined the tenderness of a woman. He could be "truest friend and noblest foe." His courage and deeds of daring would have won him that much-coveted distinction the Victoria Cross, had they been performed in an English campaign; yet the sufferings of a child, or even of an animal, caused him the greatest grief. He had a keen sense of humour, and might have cultivated the mere pleasure-seeking part of his nature, and become socially very popular. It has been well said that "Humanity wants more than this; it craves to have its best and noblest powers called into play, and exercised into action that will tend in some way to promote the general good." It is for this reason that his example is such a noble one to set before young men. Most young fellows who are worthy of the name of men have within them a spirit which admires all that is manly, noble, and chivalrous; and for such it is a grand thing to have a high ideal, even if they do not attain to it. As it is true of men that they cannot habitually think mean thoughts without becoming mean, or set before themselves a low ideal without lowering themselves, so is it true that men cannot adopt a high ideal without instinctively cultivating noble and lofty aims.
Frederick Robertson of Brighton once said, "Hate hypocrisy, hate cant, hate intolerance, hate oppression, hate injustice, hate pharisaism, hate them as Christ hated them, with a deep, living, Godlike hatred." It would be difficult to point to one who was more thoroughly influenced by the teaching conveyed in this short sentence than was Gordon. But negative virtues of this kind were not enough for him. One of his most prominent characteristics was his love for that which is good, and his incessant efforts to do good. His career was one long effort to relieve the sufferings of his fellow-creatures, to inculcate Divine truths, and in every way to make the world better. Few labourers have been called to such a variety of work; but it was all one to him. He worked for God in China when fighting to quell a civil war; he served the same Master at Gravesend when he visited the sick and the dying, and rescued little street arabs from lives of sin; and the same motives prompted him when, later on, he devoted all his energies to mitigating and attempting to abolish the horrors of the slave-trade. He is dead, but his noble example still lives.
"Press on, press on! nor doubt, nor fear, From age to age, this voice shall cheer; Whate'er may die and be forgot, Work done for God—it dieth not."
EARLY LIFE AND CRIMEAN WAR
Charles George Gordon was born on January 28, 1833, at Woolwich, so that he began his life among soldiers. He was the fourth son of General Henry William Gordon, who was in the Royal Artillery. His father came from a good family, which for centuries had been associated with the army. The old General appears to have been a good officer and a kind-hearted man, and doubtless the son inherited not only the instincts of a soldier, but a certain nobility of character which was conspicuous in the father. When the father held a high command at Corfu, he made a point of seeking out and paying attention to the forlorn and uninteresting, who are usually overlooked by others. Those who have been richly endowed by Nature have little difficulty in gaining the smiles of society; but in all classes there are a few unfortunate ones, who are not specially gifted and attractive, and who consequently often have the cold shoulder turned towards them. It was characteristic of Charles Gordon's father, as it was of himself in later years, that these were the ones he befriended and looked after.
If Charles Gordon inherited from his father the instincts of a soldier, there can be little doubt that on his mother's side he inherited a spirit of enterprise. His mother was Elizabeth Enderby, the daughter of an enterprising merchant, who had ships on every sea. It is men of this class, quite as much as our soldiers and sailors, who have made England what she is. Samuel Enderby was one of the best-known among the great merchant-princes of England, and he it was chiefly who opened to commerce the previously unknown waters of the South Pacific, after the exploring expeditions of Captain Cook. It is supposed that the first batch of convicts sent to Botany Bay were conveyed in one of his ships, and, but for his whaling fleet, Australia might never have been peopled by English emigrants. His ships carried on a busy trade with America, and it was one of his fleet that carried the historic cargo of tea which was thrown into Boston harbour when the Americans severed their connection with the mother country. His daughter had a large family, numbering five sons and six daughters. Three only of the sons survived, and they all attained the rank of General in the army. One of them became General Enderby Gordon, C.B., of the Royal Artillery, who distinguished himself in the Crimean War, and also in the Indian Mutiny. Another became General Sir Henry William Gordon, already alluded to as the author of "Events in the Life of Charles George Gordon." Charlie Gordon, to use the name by which the subject of this memoir was always known among his friends, was a delicate lad, and, perhaps for this reason, was the special favourite of his mother, who appears to have been a fond parent and a sensible woman. She was always proud of her boy, and once or twice even annoyed him by speaking of him in terms of praise to others.
The Gordon family seems to have been a very happy one, which to a great extent must have been the result of the mother's influence. One only needs to read the published "Letters of General Gordon to his Sister" to see how passionately fond the two were of each other. It might well have been Gordon that Browning had in his mind when he said—
"I think, am sure, a brother's love exceeds All the world's love in its unworldliness."
A few lines from a letter of one of his brothers, written from the Crimea, show the fond and almost parental care that the elder exhibited on behalf of the younger brother. The extract is as follows:—"Only a few lines to say Charlie is all right, and has escaped amidst a terrific shower of grape and shells of every description. You may imagine the suspense I was kept in until assured of his safety."
Like all soldiers' sons, Gordon when young had plenty of opportunities of moving about and seeing different parts of the world. In many ways this roving life is disadvantageous to a lad, as in after years he can never look back to one spot as his home, and consequently he can never localise the charming associations connected with that word. A boy also suffers considerably by being moved from one school to another. On the other hand, his wits, as a rule, get sharpened by contact with new people and new circumstances. Before Gordon was seven years old, he had accompanied his father on successive moves to Dublin, and to Leith Fort. In 1840 he went to Corfu, where his father was in command of the Royal Artillery. It was here the Duke of Cambridge first made his acquaintance, as they occupied quarters next to each other, and His Royal Highness, just forty-five years afterwards, after Gordon's death, said in a speech at the Mansion House, that he remembered the little lad then. As Gordon returned to England with his mother at the age of ten, the fact that the Commander-in-Chief remembered him at all is another proof of the wonderful faculty of memory which the Royal Family are said to possess. How differently the Duke would have thought of that little fair-haired boy with the blue penetrating eyes could he have looked into the future! It was in 1843 that Mrs. Gordon brought her son to England for the sake of his education. He went to school at Taunton for a few years, and then to Mr. Jeffery's, Shooters Hill, Woolwich, preparatory to entering the Royal Military Academy. His father had been given an appointment at the Arsenal at Woolwich, so that his holidays, as well as much of his school life, were spent at that great garrison town. There was nothing about the youth at this time that indicated what his future would be. Indeed, the very energies which in after life made him undertake so much, finding no other vent, gave him a turn for mischief and fun of all sorts. Later in life, and even amid all his troubles in the Soudan, he would in his letters recall with pleasure the boyish days spent at Woolwich.
* * *
In 1848 he entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, where he remained till 1852, when, at the age of nineteen, he received his commission in the Royal Engineers. Although he was an adept at surveying and at fortification, two branches of military knowledge which served him well in after years, he was deficient in mathematics, and consequently did not make much progress. An event which took place here might have had very serious consequences, and shows that even then he had the daring nature which afterwards characterised him. For some reason it became necessary to restrain the cadets when leaving the dining-hall, the approach to which was by a narrow staircase. At the top of this staircase stood the senior corporal, with outstretched arms, facing the cadets. This was too much for one so full of fun and energy and so reckless of consequences as Gordon; so, putting down his head, he charged, and butting the corporal in the pit of the stomach, sent him flying down the staircase and through a window beyond. Fortunately the corporal was unhurt, but Gordon was perilously near dismissal, and having his military career cut short. The act of insubordination was, however, overlooked by the authorities, but that it did not subdue his spirit is evident from the fact that on another occasion, when told by Captain Eardley Wilmot that he would never make an officer, he tore the epaulets from his shoulders and threw them at the feet of his superior. This officer, afterwards General Eardley Wilmot, became one of his greatest friends. Later on, for another offence, in which many were concerned, and of which it is doubtful if Gordon really was guilty, he was deprived of half a year's seniority in the army. This punishment really did him a good turn, for it enabled him to secure a commission in the Royal Engineers instead of the Royal Artillery, to which he would otherwise have been posted.
On the 23rd June 1852 Gordon was gazetted to the Engineers, and on the 29th November 1854 he was ordered to Corfu. As the Crimean War was going on he was much disappointed at this order, and at first attributed it to his mother's influence, who, he thought, wanted him to be sent to a safe place. Through the influence of Sir John Burgoyne, an old family friend, his destination was changed, and on the 4th of December, during that bitterly cold winter, he writes, "I received my orders for the Crimea, and was off the same day." This was not the only time that he exhibited such promptitude in leaving his native land at the call of his country. Thirty years afterwards he left England for the Soudan the very day he received his orders.
He arrived in the Crimea on New Year's Day 1855, when all the celebrated historical battles were over. His martial ardour had doubtless been stirred by hearing how bravely our men swarmed up the heights at Alma, charged the Russian gunners at Balaklava, and drove back the sortie at Inkerman. When he arrived, the siege of Sebastopol had commenced in earnest, and for some time it was an engineer's campaign, in which the spade did more than the rifle, or, to speak more correctly, the musket; for very few of our men had rifles then. Disease and exhaustion from hardship slew far more than the bullet. Altogether, it was rather a trying time for a young officer full of fire and spirit, anxious to see service of that more dashing kind that appeals to the imagination. The slow advance of the trenches must have tried his somewhat impatient spirit, which, even in later years, when it might have been modified by time, was always more ready for a rapid march, a brilliant flank movement, or something of that kind. But though the trench-work must have been wearisome and distasteful to a degree, he threw himself heart and soul into it, meriting the following praise from Colonel Chesney, an eminent engineer officer: "In his humble position as an engineer subaltern he had attracted the notice of his superiors, not merely by his energy and activity (for these are not, it may be asserted, uncommon characteristics of his class), but by an extraordinary aptitude for war, developing itself amid the trench-work before Sebastopol in a personal knowledge of the enemy's movements such as no other officer attained. 'We always used to send him out to find what new move the Russians were making,' was the testimony given to his genius by one of the most distinguished officers he served under." He not only exhibited the "aptitude for war" of which Colonel Chesney speaks, but it appears that he also displayed on several occasions a great deal of that personal courage for which he afterwards became so renowned. A single incident may be taken as a specimen of many. One day as he was passing along the trenches, he overheard a heated altercation between a sapper and a corporal, both belonging to his own corps. On inquiring into the cause, he discovered that the corporal had ordered a man to stand on the parapet, where he was exposed to the enemy's fire, while the corporal, under cover, was going to hand him some gabions for repairing the parapet. Gordon at once jumped on to the parapet himself and called the corporal to join him, letting the sapper hand up the gabions from a place of safety. Gordon remained until the work was completed, in spite of the fire of the Russians, and then turning to the corporal said, "Never order a man to do anything you are afraid to do yourself."
His warlike genius and his courage were by no means his only remarkable characteristics, and it may not be out of place to mention here a trifling event, which possibly had a marked influence on his whole life. It so happened that Colonel Staveley, an officer who afterwards attained to some eminence, but who at that time was of no great note beyond being the second in command of a distinguished corps, the 44th Regiment, mentioned in Gordon's hearing that he had been appointed field-officer of the day for the trenches for the following day, but owing to his having been on sick leave, was ignorant of the geography of the place. Now considering that Gordon was at this time greatly overworked in the trenches, he might well have been excused had he allowed Colonel Staveley's remark to pass; for it must be remembered that it is no part of the duty of a young engineer officer to instruct infantry field-officers in their duties. But this was not Gordon's style. He, at all events, never limited himself to a strict routine of mere duty, and so he cheerfully volunteered assistance, saying, "Oh! come down with me to-night after dark, and I will show you over the trenches." Colonel Staveley says, "He drew me out a very clear sketch of the lines (which I have now), and down I went accordingly. He explained every nook and corner, and took me along outside our most advanced trench, the bouquets and other missiles flying about us in, to me, a very unpleasant manner; he taking the matter remarkably coolly." Napoleon somewhere remarked that "the smallest trifles produce the greatest results," an expression to which Gordon himself once referred. This Colonel Staveley afterwards became General Sir Charles Staveley, and he it was who first recommended Gordon, when quite a young captain in China, to take command of that army for which he did so much, and with which he acquired such renown. Had it not been for Sir Charles Staveley, possibly Gordon would never have had the opportunity he needed to show of what good stuff he was made; and who but the General himself can tell how much that night adventure in the trenches had to do with his selection later on?
* * *
As I have taken a later opportunity to enlarge on Gordon's simple faith, I will only say here that up to this period there are no indications that he was very decided. It appears that during the year 1854, when stationed at Pembroke, a distinct spiritual change came over him; and if we may judge from one of his letters to his sister Augusta, it was she who influenced him for good. But there can be no question that he did not at this time enter into that full assurance of faith which afterwards characterised him; still, his faith at this period, though weak, was real. In a letter home, referring to the death of a Captain Craigie, who was killed by a splinter from a shell, he says, "I am glad to say that he was a serious man. The shell burst above him, and by what is called chance struck him in the back, killing him at once." It is interesting to note from the words "what is called chance" that he had already learnt to recognise the hand of God in everything, and that even at this early stage of his career there existed the germs of that doctrine on which he spoke and wrote so much later on. It has been said by some that his so-called fatalistic views were imbibed from the Mohammedans in the Soudan. This sentence in a letter written by him before he had ever held an intimate conversation with a Mohammedan shows that such was not the case. Allusion is made to the incident here merely to show what the condition of faith and state of mind of Charles Gordon were during the Crimean War. There is one other letter on record, written about this time, which is worthy of mention here. When the Commander-in-chief of the Crimean army died, Gordon wrote, "Lord Raglan died of tear and wear and general debility. He was universally regretted, as he was so kind. His life has been entirely spent in the service of his country. I hope he was prepared, but do not know."
* * *
Beyond a few deeds of personal daring, there is not much to record of Gordon during the Crimean War. He went out, as has already been said, when the principal battles were over, and his position being quite a subordinate one, he had no opportunities of distinguishing himself. He gained the esteem of all those who did come in contact with him; he took every opportunity of gaining a professional insight into the science of war; he had many narrow escapes of being wounded, and once he was struck on the head by a stone thrown up by a round shot. He formed a high estimate of the Russians as soldiers, with a correspondingly low one of our allies the French. Writing home of a favourable opportunity lost of assaulting Sebastopol, he says, "I think we might have assaulted on Monday, but the French do not seem to care about it. The garrison is 25,000, and on that day we heard afterwards that only 8000 were in the place, as the rest had gone to repel an attack (fancied) of ours at Inkerman."
The history of the Crimean War has been written so often, that it is unnecessary to occupy much space with detail, especially in view of the unimportant part Gordon had to play. On June 7th he accompanied the attacking force under Sir John Campbell, which was severely repulsed in the assault upon the Great Redan. A delay of over two months took place, and then the French attacked the Malakoff, and the English again attempted to seize the Redan. The French were successful, but we failed, and so it was decided to renew the attack on the following day. The Russians, however, seeing it was useless to continue the struggle, evacuated the post on the night of the 8th September. As Gordon was on duty in the trenches that night, his account of what he witnessed is interesting. "During the night of the 8th I had heard terrific explosions, and going down to the trenches at 4 A.M., I saw a splendid sight. The whole of Sebastopol was in flames, and every now and then terrible explosions took place, while the rising sun shining on the place had a most beautiful effect. The Russians were leaving the town by the bridge; all the three-deckers were sunk, the steamers alone remaining. Tons and tons of powder must have been blown up. About 8 A.M. I got an order to commence a plan of the works, for which purpose I went to the Redan, where a dreadful sight was presented. The dead were buried in the ditch—the Russians with the English—Mr. Wright reading the burial service over them."
On the fall of Sebastopol Gordon joined the force that besieged Kinburn, and was present at the fall of that fortress in October. He then returned to Sebastopol, and was engaged in destroying the defences of that place, remaining there till the evacuation in February 1856. Although he received no promotion at the end of the war, he was selected for the French Legion of Honour, a distinction given to very few subalterns. Apparently, however, he had already formed to some extent the opinion which became more decided in later years on the subject of decorations, for he said in a letter written home a month before the fall of Sebastopol, "I for one do not care about being 'lamented' after death. I am not ambitious, but what easily earned C.B.'s and Majorities there are in some cases! while men who have earned them, like poor Oldfield, get nothing. I am sorry for him. He was always squabbling about his batteries with us, but he got more by his perseverance than any man before did." Although Gordon was only twenty-two years of age at this time, we see the germs of the characteristics which later in life marked him so prominently. He was even then indifferent to earthly distinctions; he had a simple faith in his Saviour; he had repeatedly exhibited courage; and men of eminence who came in contact with him had recognised indications of peculiar military aptitude. Though he had had no opportunity of making a great name for himself at that early date, he had stood the severe test of his first campaign under great hardships, and while he had not been found wanting in a single respect, he had gained the professional respect and esteem of all.
It is unnecessary to enlarge on the time between the Crimean War and the China War. Suffice it to say briefly, that instead of being sent home, Gordon had to remain as an assistant-commissioner to settle the frontier line; for Russia had to give up a piece of territory that in 1812 she had taken from the Turks. For a whole year he was engaged on this task, and then, when he thought that he was to be allowed to return home, he was sent to Asia Minor to perform a similar duty, and was not able to return till he had been abroad three years. He was then granted leave for six months, and afterwards returned to his work in Armenia, where he remained till the spring of 1858, thus missing all chance of being employed in the Indian Mutiny, which broke out in 1857. On his return to England in 1858, he went to Chatham, where he was promoted to the rank of captain the following year.
CHINESE WAR AND TAIPING REBELLION
A stout old Scotch lady when asked about her health, replied that she was "weel i' pairts, but ower muckle to be a' weel at ane time." If the old lady was too large to be perfectly well all over at the same time, may it not be said that in this respect China resembled her in 1860? The largest empire in the world was suffering from external as well as internal troubles. A great portion of the country was given up to all the horrors of civil war conducted on an enormous scale, while the united armies of England and France were assaulting it from without.
Space does not permit a detailed account of the causes which led England to declare war on China. This war was but a phase in a dispute that had been going on since 1837 between the two countries. In 1842, to our shame it must be said, by force of arms we compelled the Chinese to receive opium from India, and thenceforward a very sore feeling existed against us. Just before the Indian Mutiny this feeling was awakened by a trifling event, and war was again declared, though, owing to the outbreak of the Mutiny, we did not press matters for a time. As soon as our hands were free in India, operations in China were actively pushed forward, the French troops joining us on account of the murder of some French missionaries. The war was practically a walk-over, for the Chinese army was quite incapable of meeting trained forces; and a treaty having been agreed upon, the representatives of the English and French returned home.
In March 1859 Mr. Frederick Bruce, brother to Lord Elgin, was sent out as Minister Plenipotentiary to China, and instructed to proceed to Pekin to exchange the ratifications of the treaty. He was to be accompanied by Admiral Hope, the English admiral commanding in China. Pekin lies inland about a hundred miles, being connected with the sea by the river Peiho, the entrance to which was commanded by the Taku Forts. For some reason, the Chinese did not want Mr. Bruce to proceed to Pekin, or at all events they objected to his proceeding by the river route, as he proposed. Obstacles to the progress of our ships were put in the way, and the Chinese refused to remove them. Mr. Bruce thereupon called upon the Admiral to take steps for their removal, and on his attempting to do so, the Chinese fired on the English ships with such telling effect that four gunboats were placed hors de combat. Nor was the Admiral more successful when he attempted to storm the forts. The result of that day's work was that out of 1100 men in the English force nearly 450 were killed or wounded. The feeling in England was, that though Mr. Bruce had acted very hastily in thus committing England to another war without definite instructions from home, the matter could not be allowed to rest. The French again joined us, and Sir Hope Grant, who had distinguished himself in the Indian Mutiny, was appointed to the command. This General, it may be remarked, was an earnest Christian no less than an eminent soldier. The Taku Forts were captured and the troops were marching on Pekin, when the Chinese sought to open negotiations, in order to prevent our army from entering their capital. Our representatives consented to enter into negotiations at Tungchow, a place about a dozen miles from Pekin. Some English officers, accompanied by a few of the staff of the English and French envoys, went forward to Tungchow, to make the necessary arrangements for the interview of the envoys with the Chinese commissioners. A misunderstanding arose, and twenty-six British and twelve French subjects were seized, in spite of the flag of truce, and hurried off to different prisons. Their sufferings as prisoners were frightful, the result being that half of them died, while the remainder, when released, bore evident signs of the ill-treatment they had undergone. The allied armies at once marched on Pekin, and Lord Elgin refused to treat with the Chinese till the prisoners were restored, which did not take place till the gates of the city were about to be blown in. The Chinese were compelled to pay L10,000 for each European and L500 for each native soldier captured, in addition to having their famous Summer Palace, valued by some at the almost fabulous sum of L4,000,000, destroyed.
* * *
Gordon at this time was adjutant of engineers at Chatham, a post a good deal esteemed by officers of his rank. He had lost the opportunity of seeing active service in India, but he was determined that it should be no fault of his if he were not sent out to China. He resigned his appointment at Chatham, an act which greatly annoyed his father and many of his friends. Even a high official in the War Office considered that he was damaging his prospects for life; whereas it turned out that by going to China he got that opportunity of exercising his talents and displaying his abilities which he might otherwise never have met with. Not leaving England till the 22nd of July 1860, he was too late to take part in the principal action, the taking of the Taku Forts, which were assaulted on the 21st August. He writes to his mother from Hong-Kong, "I am rather late for the amusement, which will not vex you." He arrived at Tientsin on September 26th, and marched with Sir Hope Grant's force to Pekin. The following is his description of the only part he was allowed to take before the Chinese surrendered:—
"We were sent down in a great hurry to throw up works and batteries against the town, as the Chinese refused to give up the gate we required them to surrender before we would treat with them. The Chinese were given until noon on October 13 to give up the Anting gate. We made a lot of batteries, and everything was ready for the assault of the wall, which is battlemented and forty feet high, but of inferior masonry. At 11.30 P.M. on the 12th, however, the gate was opened, and we took possession; so our work was of no avail."
The English and French armies left Pekin on November 8th, a little over three weeks after the fall of the city, and returned to Tientsin, to take up their quarters for the ensuing cold weather. Captain Gordon was the senior engineer officer left behind, and he remained till the spring of 1862, performing the ordinary engineer duties of providing accommodation for men and horses. During his stay at Tientsin there is little of any interest to record. He wisely relieved the monotony of camp life by making a journey to the Great Wall of China, which has been visited by very few of our countrymen. He was doubtless prompted by curiosity to undertake this expedition, but other motives were also at work. He was a born soldier, he was good at surveying, and doubtless he was anxious to ascertain by personal observation if any other route existed than the well-known one by which a Russian army could march on Pekin; but he was unsuccessful in finding one. During the journey the cold was very severe; in one place, he says, "the raw eggs were frozen hard as if they had been boiled."
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It has been already mentioned that China was troubled by an extensive civil war, which had been going on for many years. It appears to have commenced in the province of Quang-Tung, and to have been headed by a schoolmaster, Hung-tsue-schuen. That there must have been good cause for the dissatisfaction which caused the outbreak is clear from the fact that not only did thousands join the rising, but that among the rebels were men of great ability. The leader seems to have been a strange mixture of good and evil, and at one time appears to have had an inclination towards Christianity. Unfortunately the evil part of his nature predominated, and his head was turned by his success. During the time the Chinese troops were engaged in war with the English, the rebels had it pretty well their own way, and large tracts of the country were devastated. Intoxicated with success, the rebels threatened to attack Shanghai, and the merchants there, seeing how incapable the Government was to protect them, subscribed to form a small army to protect their interests. The command of this force was given to an American named Ward, who appears to have been a born soldier. His career was short, but he was engaged in seventy actions and never lost one. So successful was he, that the Pekin authorities conferred on his troops the pretentious title of "Ever-Victorious Army." Unfortunately for that army, it soon lost its able commander, for in September 1862 he was killed when assaulting a city near Ningpo. He was succeeded by an American adventurer named Burgevine, who turned out a complete failure, being one of that type of unprincipled men who do so much harm in non-Christian countries. When he was dismissed, application was made to the English General to appoint an English officer to take command. Major Gordon had been ordered to Shanghai from Pekin at the beginning of May 1862, and consequently had come under the command of General Staveley, with whom, it will be remembered, he was acquainted in the Crimea. General Staveley's duty was to clear the country for thirty miles round Shanghai of the rebels, and in the performance of this task Major Gordon had been employed. The opinion that General Staveley had formed of Gordon's courage and ability in the Crimea was confirmed in the operations around Shanghai, and the following account is given by that General of Gordon's plucky conduct:—
"Captain Gordon was of the greatest use to me when the task of clearing the rebels from out of the country within a radius of thirty miles from Shanghai had to be undertaken. He reconnoitred the enemy's defences, and arranged for the ladder-parties to cross the moats, and for the escalading of the works; for we had to attack and carry by storm several towns fortified with high walls and deep wet ditches. He was, however, at the same time a source of much anxiety to me from the daring manner in which he approached the enemy's works to acquire information. Previous to our attack upon Singpo, and when with me in a boat reconnoitring the place, he begged to be allowed to land, in order better to see the nature of the defences. Presently, to my dismay, I saw him gradually going nearer and nearer, by rushes from cover to cover, until he got behind a small outlying pagoda within a hundred yards of the wall, and here he was quietly making a sketch and taking notes. I, in the meantime, was shouting myself hoarse in trying to get him back; for not only were the rebels firing at him from the walls, but I saw a party stealing round to cut him off."
There is not much more of interest to record of Gordon's doings at this period. The rebels having been cleared out of the thirty-miles radius, Gordon was deputed to commence a complete survey of the whole district, and in December we find him so engaged. This occupation gave him a thorough insight into the ways of the people and the nature of the country. In this month he writes as follows:—
"The people on the confines are suffering greatly and dying of starvation. This state of affairs is most sad, and the rebellion ought to be put down. Words cannot express the horrors these people suffer from the rebels, or the utter desert they have made of this rich province. It is all very well to talk of non-intervention, and I am not particularly sensitive, nor are our soldiers generally so; but certainly we are all impressed with the utter misery and wretchedness of these poor people."
When General Staveley was applied to for an officer to take command of the so-called Ever-Victorious Army, his thoughts not unnaturally turned to Gordon, who, by the way, had received the brevet rank of major at the end of 1862. Gordon, having seen the failings and shortcomings of our generals in the Crimea, longed for an opportunity to exercise the gifts of which he felt conscious. General Staveley, however, shrank from recommending him for such a dangerous post. He knew well the plucky, chivalrous nature of the young engineer, and not unnaturally feared that he would expose himself too much to danger. His affection for Major Gordon made him at first refuse to recommend him for the command, and it was not till Gordon repeatedly urged him to yield, and promised not to expose himself more than necessary, that he consented to submit his name to the authorities at home. A temporary commander being urgently required, he appointed the chief of his staff, Captain Holland, of the Royal Marines, to the post, pending the decision of the War Office with regard to Gordon. Before the reply arrived from England two expeditions took place, one against Fushan, under Major Brennan, and one against the city of Taitsan, in which Captain Holland commanded in person. Both were disastrous to the reputation of the Ever-Victorious Army. In the attack on Taitsan some 7500 men were engaged, about one-third belonging to the Ever-Victorious Army, while the remainder were Chinese Imperial troops. Unfortunately, Captain Holland took it for granted that the Mandarins were correct when they informed him that the moat around the city contained no water, whereas it proved to be at least thirty feet deep. This was not discovered till the assaulting party arrived without bridges, and with nothing but escalading ladders, which they attempted to use as bridges. The ladders were of course not strong enough to bear the weight of the men, and broke down. The assault was very soon turned into a rout, and the "Ever-Victorious Army" not only lost several hundred men, but allowed two guns to fall into the hands of the enemy.
Such a disaster clearly indicated that an abler man was required at the head of the Ever-Victorious Army, and forthwith Major Gordon was appointed. A letter written home at the time shows that he was conscious that his father would not be pleased at the step he had taken:—
"I am afraid that you will be much vexed at my having taken the command of the Sung-kiang force, and that I am now a Mandarin. I have taken the step on consideration. I think that any one who contributes to putting down this rebellion fulfils a humane task, and I also think tends a great deal to open China to civilisation. I will not act rashly, and I trust to be able soon to return to England; at the same time, I will remember your and my father's wishes, and endeavour to remain as short a time as possible. I can say that if I had not accepted the command, I believe the force would have broken up, and the rebellion gone on in its misery for years. I trust this will not now be the case, and that I may soon be able to comfort you on the subject. You must not fret over the matter. I think I am doing a good service.... I keep your likeness before me, and can assure you and my father that I will not be rash, and that as soon as I can conveniently, and with due regard to the object I have in view, I will return home."
Gordon's father has been much misrepresented by some biographers. It has been practically said that he was not able to appreciate his son's nobility of character; but there is not a word of truth in this. The old man saw that the post accepted by his son was one of great danger, made all the more dangerous by that son's daring, and the fact that he did not understand the language of the people and was not cognisant of their manner of conducting warfare. He also was of opinion that the Chinese Government ought to be able to deal with their own internal affairs, and put down any rebellions that might occur without making a cat's-paw of his son. One cannot blame the father, who only looked at the matter in a natural way, judging the circumstances from his own standpoint. It is impossible to consider the whole facts, and to read the letters concerning them, without feeling that neither father nor son had anything of which to be ashamed.
One of the most painful things in life is for a man who is fond of his parents to have to take a step which he feels will not meet with their approval, and we may be quite sure that Major Gordon gave this subject his earnest and prayerful consideration. The path of duty seemed to him to be clear, and the call was distinct. The whole country was practically deluged in blood, and not only strong men, but hapless women and children, were suffering. Could Gordon, knowing what he did, and feeling conscious of his power to put down the rebellion, have declined to enter the path so unexpectedly opened to him? Some would have done so. But opportunities such as this, not seized, are seldom repeated. His ability, his energies, and his powers might never have found full scope, and might have proved a curse to him rather than a blessing. How often one sees in life men with marked ability who are not only unhappy themselves, but make every one around them equally so. They seem to have missed the object for which they were created, and instead of doing their duty in a large sphere, as they might have done, their stunted energies prevent them from properly filling even a smaller and humbler sphere. They have missed the opportunity of being really great, and yet their abilities prevent them from being satisfied with anything short of this. The call came to Gordon to take his share in the battle of life, and to do his best to mitigate the sufferings caused by a horrible civil war, and doubtless he pondered those words, "He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me." He decided to take the path which appeared to him the one of duty; nor need we be surprised when we know that he was a thorough Englishman of the highest type, of whom the words are true—
"There's a heart that leaps with burning glow The wronged and the weak to defend; It strikes as soon for a trampled foe As it does for a soul-bound friend."
GORDON'S FIRST COMMAND
At the age of thirty, Major Gordon obtained his first independent command, thus surpassing the Duke of Wellington's achievement by four years. With Wellington, too, able as he showed himself to be, it must be borne in mind that his first appointment was due to family interest, for his eldest brother, Lord Mornington, was Viceroy of India at the time. In Gordon's case, however, personal merit was the only qualification that brought him to the notice of the General in command, and it speaks volumes for Sir Charles Staveley's insight into character that such a wise appointment was made. Sir William Butler in his biography of Gordon says, "Thus on March 24, 1863, Gordon stepped out for the first time from that inevitable environment of the mass which so often keeps entangled in its folds men on whom Nature has conferred great gifts. Fate, it is said, knocks once at every man's door, but sometimes it is when the shadows are gathering and the fire is beginning to burn slow." This was not the case with Gordon, for he was at about the age at which such famous soldiers as Alexander, Wellington, and Napoleon have shown that man is full of life and fire. Many of the brilliant successes attained by those men would never have been won had they not had opportunities of making their first attempts till mature years had sobered them down. Nothing gives a man so much confidence in his own resources as success, more especially if that success has been gained amidst trying circumstances.
There can be no doubt that the period which we are now considering is the most interesting of Gordon's life. Up to this time, he had done well all that he had been called upon to perform in the way of duty, but had had no opportunity to show of what stuff he was made. A subordinate may suggest, and a superior may reap the benefit of his brains, if he has only sufficient intelligence of his own to recognise merit in others, a quality of which many are deficient. But a subordinate cannot initiate. And his suggestions, when adopted by a superior, frequently fail, for the simple reason that only a portion of his ideas are grasped, and something is lacking. Gordon's new position gave him not only the opportunity to initiate, but the power to carry out his ideas. After the suppression of the Taiping rebellion, every one who had the power to recognise greatness at all knew that Gordon had qualities that would make him succeed in anything he liked to take up, and therefore it was no matter of surprise to see him adding laurels to his crown.
* * *
Hitherto I have refrained from making any allusion to Gordon's personal appearance, having reserved the point till this period of his history, when, for the first time, he takes a prominent part on the stage of life. There have been numerous pictures sold representing him, and perhaps still more numerous descriptions written. The best that I have seen are accounts written by two intimate friends. Sir Gerald Graham, who knew him as a cadet at Woolwich, and was one of the last Englishmen ever to see him, says:—
"Not over five feet nine inches in height, but of compact build, his figure and gait characteristically expressed resolution and strength. His face, though in itself unpretending, was one that, in common phrase, 'Grew upon you.' Time had now streaked with grey the crisp, curly, brown hair of his youth, and traced lines of care on his ample forehead and strong clear face, bronzed with exposure to the tropical sun. His usual aspect was serene and quiet, and though at times a ruffling wave of constitutional impatience or indignation might pass over him, it did not disturb him long. The depth and largeness of Gordon's nature, which inspired so much confidence in others, seemed to afford him a sense of inner repose, so that outer disturbance was to him like the wind that ruffles the surface of the sea, but does not affect its depth. The grace and beauty of Gordon's whole expression came from within, and, as it were, irradiated the man, the steadfast truthful gaze of the blue-grey eyes seeming a direct appeal from the upright spirit within. His usual manner charmed by its simple unaffected courtesy; but though utterly devoid of self-importance, he had plenty of quiet dignity, or even imperious authority, at command when required."
Colonel H. G. Prout, an American officer, who served under Gordon in the Soudan, writing in Scribner's Magazine, says:—
"He was rather under than over medium height, of well-proportioned figure, by no means heavy, but muscular and vigorous in all his movements. His hair was brown, and curled rather closely. His complexion was ruddy. He wore a short moustache and small whiskers, and shaved as carefully when he was in the heart of Africa as when he was in London. His mouth was resolute, but full of humour. His smile was quick, and his whole expression was kind, bright, and ready, but absolutely self-reliant. Only a dull person could fail to see that here was a man who had nothing to ask or to fear. His most striking feature was his eyes. These were bright blue, and the blue and white were of that pure unclouded quality that one sees only in the eyes of a baby. Only a baby's eyes could be so direct and sincere. You felt that they looked right into your soul and laid bare your motives."
Both these descriptions speak of him as seen in the Soudan, but they are so graphic, that it requires little imagination to see the man before us a few years younger. At the age of thirty, he was of course much younger looking; but his general appearance was not one that changed much. Considering the hardships through which he passed, it was wonderful how little he exhibited their effects. It will be remarked that in both of the foregoing descriptions reference is made to his blue eyes, which certainly were a very prominent feature in his personality. If we may anticipate events a little, as we are considering this subject, it is interesting to record that a little native boy named Capsune, whom General Gordon rescued from the slave-dealers in 1870, asked the lady who had charge of him after Gordon's death whether she was quite sure that Gordon Pasha still kept his blue eyes, and did she think he could "see all through me now?" Another day he said he was "quite sure Gordon Pasha could see quite well in the dark, because he had the light inside him."
* * *
This, then, is the man whom the fortunes of war called to fill about as difficult a position as it is possible to imagine. The enemy he was to disperse were flushed with victory, having for years been able to defy all who had attempted to suppress them. Their numbers were overwhelming as compared with the handful of men the merchants of Shanghai were able out of their private resources to put into the field; and, as if these were not sufficient advantages, they had possession of all the large cities and places of importance for many miles outside the thirty-miles radius around Shanghai. The army Gordon was called upon to command possessed a high-sounding name, justly earned by a former commander, but with his death had passed away all that made the title justifiable. It was a relic of greatness that had departed, and to one like Gordon, who had a keen sense of humour, it must have sounded ridiculous in the extreme. The army consisted of about 3000 Chinese, with 150 officers, the latter being principally foreigners. The officers were by no means wanting in pluck, nor deficient in military skill, but there appears to have been a great want of discipline among them, to say nothing of the existence of keen jealousies of one another. The fact that in one month eleven officers died of delirium tremens speaks volumes as to their character. Colonel Chesney says, "Among them were avowed sympathisers with the rebels, and avowed defiers of Chinese law; but all classes soon learnt to respect a General in whose kindness, valour, skill, and justice they found cause unhesitatingly to confide; who never spared himself personal exposure when danger was near; and beneath whose firm touch sank into significance the furious quarrels and personal jealousies which had hitherto marred the usefulness of the force."
The headquarters of this little army was a place called Sung-kiang, to the west of Shanghai, and close to the border of the thirty-miles radius around that city. Gordon proceeded on the 24th March 1863 to assume his command, and it was thought by many that he would endeavour to take the city of Taitsan, and thus wipe out the reproach of his predecessor. But his military instinct showed him a far more important step to take. About twenty miles inland and fifty miles from Gordon's headquarters was a city called Chanzu, which was the only one in that neighbourhood loyal to the Imperial cause. It had been held by the Taipings, but the chief had persuaded his men to abandon the cause of the rebels and throw in their lot with the Emperor. No sooner had their decision been taken, than the Taiping General marched a strong army on the city to punish them. The defenders were holding out bravely, but they were reduced to starvation, and were suffering terribly. It would have been both impolitic and cruel to have left this city to its fate; so Gordon determined to relieve it. Chanzu was, however, cut off from the sea by an intervening city called Fushan, which commanded the river; so Gordon decided that, with the object of relieving the Chanzu garrison, Fushan must be captured. As has already been mentioned, one expedition against this place had signally failed. Gordon took two steamers, packed 1000 men into them, 200 of whom were artillerymen, and with this small force proceeded to attack Fushan. In spite of the overwhelming numbers against him, the enemy being able to draw reinforcements from the army investing Chanzu, he captured the place. No sooner had it fallen than Gordon set to work to relieve Chanzu. This he had very little difficulty in doing, for as soon as the rebels found that they were between two armies and exposed to attack in opposite directions, they moved off.
This brilliant achievement accomplished, Gordon retired to his headquarters at Sung-kiang. By Imperial decree he was made a Tsung-Ping or Brigadier-General. He had passed through his first ordeal, and had come out of it with credit. He had not only struck a blow, but had done it with such promptitude, that every one began to get confidence in this young "General," as he was hereafter termed by the Chinese. To take a handful of men, not stronger than a full-sized English regiment at that time, to transport them in one day fifty miles, and to capture a city with overwhelming odds against him, exhibited capacity combined with promptness of action equal to anything recorded in the annals of the greatest soldiers. His predecessor, with an army numbering 7500—for he had a large force of Imperial troops in addition to his own—had been terribly beaten in his attempt to take Taitsan. But Gordon with a force of only 1000 men had captured one city and relieved another, at a much greater distance from headquarters, and that with the loss of only two killed and six wounded. In the account of the attack, no light is thrown on the question why Gordon succeeded so brilliantly when others failed. He simply pounded away with his artillery, which was not strong, for three hours, and having effected a breach, he ordered an assault of infantry, which swept everything before it. This in itself is such a simple operation, and so much like what had been done before, that it does not account for his success. As the question will doubtless often occur to the reader, why Gordon so often succeeded where others failed, it may be well to quote a few words written by Colonel Prout, dealing with this very subject:—
"Gordon took and kept his unquestioned place as a chief, not by force of gold lace, banners, and salutes of trumpets and guns, but by doing things. He filled Carlyle's definition, King, Koenning, which means Can-ing, Able-man. All who are at all familiar with his character and deeds must recognise the fact that he was a man of great qualities, both of mind and character. He did not do things accidentally or by mysterious means. Whatever business he had in hand, he knew it thoroughly in all its details. He knew his men and their motives, and he grasped all the minutiae of his material. He was a highly educated modern soldier, and from the principles of grand strategy down to mending a gun-lock or loading a cartridge he knew his profession. He was not a great student of books, but his quick and strong mind seized and held facts with wonderful power. His most remarkable intellectual quality was directness."
This paragraph from a magazine article throws light on the cause of much of Gordon's success. Lord Beaconsfield used to say that genius was the art of taking pains. It will be remembered that the principal reason why Gordon's predecessor failed at Taitsan was, that he took it for granted that he was rightly informed when he was told that the ditch around the city was dry, and consequently he came unprovided with bridges. Gordon, on the other hand, took nothing for granted. Every detail was personally looked into, every difficulty anticipated by his eager restless brain. Consequently everything he took in hand succeeded; and yet to the superficial observer it all seemed so simple. The power of anticipating and providing against difficulties is one of those gifts which go a long way towards ensuring success in any calling in life, and that gift Gordon possessed to a remarkable degree. Whether it was innate, or whether it was cultivated, is difficult to say. Possibly it was implanted by nature to a certain extent, and in addition he cultivated and developed the natural gift.
* * *
A brief allusion has already been made to Burgevine, the American who for a short time commanded the Ever-Victorious Army after the death of Ward. This man plays a somewhat important part in connection with Gordon's operations, so it may be well here to give an account of his history, for just at this time an order arrived from Pekin that he was to be reinstated in his command, if the Governor of the province approved. The career of Burgevine is, it is to be feared, an illustration of the lives of many adventurers who, having failed in some civilised country, go out to seek their fortunes among a non-Christian people, and bring disgrace upon Christianity. Without principle, destitute of all honourable feelings, they imbibe all that is low and bad in the countries to which they go, yet all the time they are called Christians, and looked upon as such by the natives. In almost every large city belonging to a non-Christian people will be found one or more of this type, to whom the lines might with truth be applied—
"Hast thou with Asiatic vices filled thy mind, And left their virtues and thine own behind?"
Burgevine was by no means deficient in military skill or courage, but he was utterly unprincipled, and, as the sequel will show, he was as ready to sell himself to the enemy as he was to fight for the Imperialists. The immediate cause of his dismissal from the command of the Ever-Victorious Army was that he went to the Chinese treasury officer with a hundred men of his bodyguard and demanded money for arrears of pay. That official being unable to comply, Burgevine struck him and ordered his followers to seize 40,000 dollars. No sooner was he dismissed, than he went to Pekin to plead his cause there, and got the American ambassador to back him up, the latter of course being ignorant of his real character. The authorities at Pekin yielded, and sent him back to Shanghai to assume command, provided the local Governor had no objection. A shrewd suspicion exists that this was but a diplomatic way of getting out of a difficulty, as the authorities at Pekin must have known that the Governor could not possibly consent to receive Burgevine back after what he had done. This Governor was Li Hung Chang, a man of considerable power, who could see that he had in Gordon a man of ability; and though he did not at that time appreciate him as he afterwards did, still the fascination of Gordon's character, that so endeared him to many others, had already begun to work. Consequently the Governor strongly opposed the return of Burgevine, and at the same time took the opportunity of informing the Pekin authorities that Gordon was gaining the confidence of his men, as well as of the merchants and others at Shanghai. This for a time closed Burgevine's career, though we shall hear of him again.
* * *
The city of Chanzu was relieved on April 5th, but it was not till the end of that month that Gordon again took the field. His brief but brilliant campaign had shown the weak points in his force; so he spent some three weeks at headquarters in getting his little army better in hand. Among other things, he put his men into a uniform of dark serge with green turbans, so as to make the enemy suppose that they were Europeans. At first this little reform was very unpopular, as most reforms are, and the men were called by their countrymen "Imitation Foreign Devils." When the Ever-Victorious Army regained its right to its title, the men became proud of their uniform, and would not have exchanged it for their old costume. Dr. Wilson in his interesting account of this period tells us that Woo, the Tautai of Shanghai, even went so far as to purchase thousands of boots of European make, such as were worn by Gordon's men, that their footprints might be seen about, as the rebels were so impressed with fear of the disciplined Chinese troops! Not only uniform, but every other detail necessary to the improvement of the army, was during that short space of time gone into, and on April 29th Gordon once more commenced active operations.
This time the object of attack was the city of Quinsan, about thirty miles to the north-west of his camp; but, when en route, he heard that his Imperialist allies, who were besieging the city of Taitsan, had been most treacherously treated. The rebels had proposed to surrender, and had permitted upwards of 1500 men of the Imperial army to enter their city. Suddenly they closed the gates and captured these men, beheading some 300 of them, including the brother of Li Hung Chang. This disaster to his allies decided Gordon to turn aside and lend his aid in reducing Taitsan, the city where his predecessor had suffered such a terrible defeat. It must have been an anxious time when he led his small army against a place which would remind them so forcibly of the greatest disaster they had experienced.
The city of Taitsan had a garrison of some 10,000 men, with a considerable sprinkling of white men, some of whom were deserters from the English and French armies, together with American sailors and others. Gordon's army consisted of only 3000 men; so that not only had his opponents the benefit of walls, from behind which they might deliver their fire, but they outnumbered his little force by more than three to one. Taitsan was, however, a great prize to be aimed at, for its fall would blot out the remembrance of the disaster which had occurred when it was last attacked. Captain Holland on that occasion had assaulted it from the south. Gordon's quick military eye showed him that he ought to seize the canal leading into the town on the western side. He had little difficulty in possessing himself of this water-way, and he made use of it to bring his guns and ammunition to within 600 yards of the walls. At that distance he opened fire, under cover of which he pushed forward some of his guns to within 100 yards, concentrating all his fire on one spot, with the object of effecting a breach in the walls. At each discharge of his guns at this short range masses of masonry fell, forming a gradual slope, up which the assaulting party could rush. Steamers and boats came up the canal and turned into the moat, forming a perfect bridge across the water. The defenders, seeing their danger, wisely concentrated their fire on the temporary bridge, and rushed to defend the breach. Captain Bannen, who led the attack, was killed, and the assaulting party were for a time driven back. Another column was formed for the assault, and this time Gordon kept up an incessant artillery fire over the heads of his own men as they advanced. Again they met with a determined resistance, but after a severe hand-to-hand struggle, the attack was victorious, and the defenders, seized with panic, actually trampled down many of their own side in their haste to escape.
Thus on May 1, 1863, fell this important stronghold; but the victory cost Gordon dearly, as his killed and wounded were very numerous for such a small force. The vacancies, however, were filled up by volunteers from among the prisoners he took, and these men made admirable fighting soldiers, though they had of course somewhat lax notions on the subject of discipline. Although Gordon received little or no help from the Imperial troops, they caused him a good deal of pain and annoyance by an act committed on the fall of Taitsan. Capturing seven retreating rebels, the Imperial troops tied them up, and, according to their own horribly cruel custom, forced arrows into their flesh, flayed bits of skin off their arms, and thus exposed them for several hours previous to execution. This was supposed to be in revenge for the treachery of the Taipings, already alluded to, and they contended that these seven men were specially to blame. Be that as it may, a very natural sense of indignation was awakened throughout the civilised world, and questions were asked in Parliament about the incident, it being assumed that Gordon and other British officers were concerned in these atrocities. As Gordon, in spite of his bravery and his being habitually brought into the presence of bloodshed, was one of the most tender-hearted of men, it need hardly be said that he was deeply grieved and pained by the whole circumstance, and it was through his influence that General Brown, then in command of the British troops at Shanghai, informed the Chinese Governor that, on a repetition of such barbarity, all the British officers would be withdrawn.
PROGRESS OF THE REBELLION
Before Gordon captured Taitsan, it will be remembered, he was on his way to attack the city of Quinsan. Having accomplished his purpose of assisting his allies, the Imperial troops, he reverted to his original object. He wanted to leave Taitsan to be held by the Imperialists, and at once to march on Quinsan; but owing to the want of discipline in his army, he was unable to do this. His men had taken a large amount of loot from Taitsan, and were anxious to dispose of it, and their young General, much against his will, had to accept the inevitable. With an army such as that which Gordon had under his control, it does not do to draw tight the reins of discipline too suddenly. It had for a long time been in a lax condition, and Gordon saw that he must gain the men's confidence before sharply asserting his authority. With an army well in hand, the right thing would have been to follow up his victories immediately, so that the enemy should not have time to recover themselves. But instead of being able to go on at once from Taitsan to Quinsan, he had to return to headquarters, and there wait till the end of May, reorganising and making preparations. So bad was the discipline among his officers, that just before he started for Quinsan, all the majors commanding regiments resigned, simply because he promoted his commissary-general, an English officer named Cooksby, to the rank of colonel. This step was taken because Gordon found that disputes were always occurring about rations and quarters between the commissary-general and the regimental commanders. As the latter had, and the former had not, military rank, the commissary was in an awkward position. Gordon therefore decided that, the commissary being one of his most important staff officers, he ought not only to have military rank, but that his rank should be of a superior kind. It is worthy of note that in this respect Gordon was just twenty years ahead of the War Office authorities, for it was not till the year 1884 that commissariat officers in the English army were accorded military rank. The amusing part of the outbreak of insubordination amongst Gordon's majors was, that though they resigned their commissions, they asked that they might be allowed for the sake of loot to accompany the expedition to Quinsan. Gordon accepted the resignations, but declined to let the majors take part in his expedition. But he had to yield this point; for on the following day, when the "fall in" sounded, the men supported their commanding officers, and refused to obey. The majors, however, seeing that there was only one General, and that he might be killed, in which event the command would probably devolve on one of themselves, thought better of the matter, and fell in with their men as usual. The only wonder is that, with such an army and such disorganised material, the young commander should have been able to accomplish so much against overwhelming numbers.
When Gordon reached Quinsan, he found the Imperial troops under Governor Li and General Ching in a most unfortunate position. They were supposed to be besieging the city, but the enemy were practically besieging them. Gordon quickly drove off the enemy that were seeking to encompass the Imperialists, and then he found that General Ching was anxious to attack the eastern gate of the city, a proceeding that did not at all commend itself to him. He saw at a glance that the western gate would probably be the better one to attack, as the enemy would be less prepared there. Quinsan was an important place, and was strongly defended; it was held by at least 15,000 men, and the moat round the fortification was forty feet wide. Before coming to a definite decision, Gordon made a reconnaissance in a steamer, taking the Governor and General Ching with him. Being convinced by personal observation that he was right in the step he intended to take, he informed the Chinese General to that effect, and in a letter written some little time after the event he says, "General Ching was as sulky as a bear when he was informed that I thought it advisable to take these stockades the next day, and to attack on this side of the city."
At dawn on the 30th May, having surrounded the city with his own and the Imperialist troops, he took a small force by water to a point on the main line of communication between Quinsan and Soo-chow, only defended by a weak stockade, which was easily taken. Gordon then took the celebrated little steamer the Hyson, and went towards Soo-chow. Meeting a large force of the enemy on the way to reinforce Quinsan, he opened fire upon them. Little anticipating an attack in this direction, they got into confusion and fled, the steamer following them. Having inflicted heavy loss on the retreating army and steamed right up to Soo-chow, he turned round and went at full speed till he got back to Chunye, where he had that morning left a small detachment of riflemen. It was 10.30 P.M. and a rather dark night. His intention was to wait till the next morning and renew the conflict by attacking the city. But the rebels within the walls had been seized with panic, and knowing that the city was invested on three sides, they made a rush for Soo-chow. In doing so they met Gordon's steamer returning. Again she opened fire and blew her whistle, the sound of the latter doing much damage by adding to the noise and increasing the panic among the rebels. The men were in dense masses, and each shell mowed them down in large numbers. Gordon says, "The mass wavered, yelled and turned back." The city had fallen, and by 4 A.M. on May 31st everything was quiet, and it was reckoned that from three to four thousand of the enemy must have been killed, drowned, or taken prisoners. The little steamer had won the day, having fired some eighty or ninety rounds; the troops had done little or nothing. Only two men on Gordon's side were killed and five were drowned.
Thus in a single day had fallen this important city, which was the key to the position of Soo-chow. Indeed, the impetuous young commander was anxious to dash on and seize Soo-chow itself, but he could not inspire the Imperialist General with his spirit. He says, "I have no doubt of my having been able to take Soo-chow the other day, if the Mandarins had been able to take advantage of our success." The capture of Quinsan was one of the most brilliant strokes of success Gordon had during the whole of the campaign, and he attributed it to the fact that the lines of communication between that city and Soo-chow were neglected, and that he was permitted to get his steamer into the canal, which ran parallel with the only road. Both the armies which he defeated were compelled to march along the road, as on each side of the road there was water. Through the men marching thus in dense masses, the shot and shell from the steamer carried death and destruction, creating much confusion. The Taiping rebels were evidently not prepared to fight such an amphibious general as Gordon proved himself to be.
It may be well to remark here on the fertility of resource and the initiative power which this young commander possessed. It mattered not what difficulties arose, his fertile brain sooner or later devised a method by which he could overcome them. It is said that the best doctor is not necessarily the cleverest man, but the one who is most fertile in resource. If disorders of the human frame refuse to yield to one kind of treatment, another must be tried, and so on, until at last the right method is discovered. There can be no question that this is also true of the military and other callings in life. The man of a fertile brain, ever ready to suggest new methods when old ones have failed, is the most likely to succeed. It was to this cause, more than to any other, that Napoleon at first owed his success. When he was a young man, it was the custom in Europe to imitate blindly the tactics of Frederick the Great of Prussia, and to rely on ponderous heavy squares and a slow stiff method of moving. Napoleon was the first to see that, however suitable such tactics had been during the time of the great Prussian general, before the development of artillery, they were not adapted to the changed circumstances under which battles were fought in his own time; and so in 1806 at Jena he smashed to pieces the Prussian force, which came against him in all the pride of inherited traditions, handed down from one of the greatest generals of his age. While it is almost a truism to say that what is appropriate to one age is not suited to another, it is only men of the type of Napoleon and Gordon who are quick enough to see the necessity for a change of method, and sufficiently resourceful to adopt new plans. Ninety-nine generals out of a hundred would never have thought of utilising a little steamer to destroy a land force, but would have proceeded in the old-fashioned methods of a siege, and perhaps have lost an enormous number of men in the process. The enemy are always more or less prepared for conventional methods of fighting, but it stands to reason that they are unprepared for new ideas. Hence much of Gordon's success.
In addition to this fertility of resource, Gordon displayed wonderful courage in carrying out his ideas. No sooner had Quinsan fallen than he saw that it would be a good thing to make a change in his headquarters, and to transfer them thence from Sung-kiang. With the old centre were associated all sorts of traditions connected with the army before his time, in the days when discipline was lax, and the one idea of the soldiers was that the war was being carried on for the sake of providing them with loot. There were loot agents and other means by which the officers and soldiers could easily dispose of their booty. All this was demoralising, so Gordon decided on an immediate change. But the army looked at the matter from a different standpoint, and a mutinous spirit arose. Mr. Wilson informs us that the artillery threatened to blow the officers to pieces, and a written notification to that effect was sent to the General. Gordon at once summoned the non-commissioned officers, who he knew were at the bottom of the plot, and threatened to shoot every fifth man if the name of the writer of the notice were not revealed. Immediately they all commenced to groan, one corporal making himself specially conspicuous by groaning very loudly. Whether Gordon had any suspicions with regard to this particular man, we are not informed, but he directed him to be seized, and ordered a couple of infantry soldiers standing by to shoot him. He then had the others confined, and again repeated his threat to the effect that one in every five would be shot if the name of the writer were not given up. Events proved that the corporal already shot was the culprit. No doubt many in this country will judge Gordon harshly with regard to this summary method of dealing out justice; but it must be remembered that a civil war was going on in which thousands of lives were annually sacrificed. Gordon knew perfectly well that he could suppress it if he had a disciplined force under him. He also knew what a frightful scourge an undisciplined army might become. According to the tradition of all nations, each man in Gordon's army had forfeited his life by disobedience in the presence of the enemy. What was the life of one man compared with the thousands of women and children who were suffering through the horrors of that war? We in England have been for so long mercifully spared the misery of war in our own country, that possibly public opinion has become a little too sentimental. During the Trafalgar Square riots in 1887, it was suggested by some that the Fire Brigade should pump cold water on to the rioters in order to disperse them; and one writer seriously deprecated such a step, on the ground that possibly the poor fellows who got the ducking might catch cold! It is possible to go from one extreme to another, and, while wishing to avoid harshness and cruelty in any form, to become too sentimental, and thus do harm in an opposite direction. Sentimental people too often forget the sufferings of the many innocent victims when contemplating those of a few culprits. War is too stern a thing for us to trifle with, and those whose duty it is to be engaged in it must be prepared to suppress with a strong hand anything in the form of incipient mutiny.
With regard to the threat which Gordon held out of shooting one man in five, such a form of punishment is by no means uncommon in countries more civilised than China. It has been frequently resorted to in Russia, and as recently as 1876, during the Russo-Turkish war, on symptoms of a mutiny exhibiting themselves among the Russian troops, the commander-in-chief threatened to shoot one in every ten of the men, and thus quelled the manifestation. There can be no question that Gordon's acting as he did was far more plucky than all the personal exposure to danger through which he went. Many men who would be willing to sacrifice their own lives in the path of duty would have shrunk from taking such a step.
But though Gordon was quite prepared to fight as long as he could benefit his fellow-creatures by so doing, he was essentially a man of peace, and he loathed the horrors of war. On the 29th June he says: "The rebels remain very quiet, and we are engaged in organising another attack upon them. I have, however, sent a letter to the rebel chiefs, offering my good services towards any arrangements they may be inclined to enter into with the Imperialists, by which more fighting may be avoided. I am most anxious to have as little fighting as possible, and shall do my best to bring about a pacific solution of the question." This was the more magnanimous when we consider that he was perfectly confident in the ultimate result of the conflict, and that in the way of glory acquired by brilliant victories he had everything to gain in terminating the war by force of arms instead of by diplomacy.
The rebels at this time had received a great addition of strength by Burgevine going over to them, together with upwards of 300 English, American, and other adventurers. On this subject Gordon says:—
"The fact that Burgevine has joined the rebels will no doubt very much prolong the rebellion, which, humanly speaking, would almost have been put down this year, or at the latest next spring; but the force at my command is too small to do everything, and one has to act with great caution. I feel that I have so many lives intrusted to me, that these are, as it were, at my disposal, and I will not risk them in an enterprise I consider rash. Burgevine is a very foolish fellow, and little thinks of the immense misery he will cause this unhappy country, for of the ultimate suppression of the rebellion I have little doubt."
In another letter he says, "I think the rebels will soon get very tired of their auxiliaries, and the latter of the rebels."
The worst thing, however, that Gordon had to fear was treachery on the part of his own officers and men. Burgevine knew most of them well, and had managed very skilfully to associate his own dismissal from the command of the Ever-Victorious Army with the fact that he was striving for the interests of the men and officers. Consequently he was to a certain extent a martyr in their eyes, and he made the most of this fact in endeavouring to corrupt some of Gordon's officers. For Burgevine was not more successful in alluring Gordon's army from its allegiance than in defeating it in open conflict. Having made one or two unsuccessful attempts, and discovered that the brilliant young commander was more than a match for him, he asked Gordon to meet him at an appointed place, where he told him that he had determined to desert the rebel cause. This did not surprise Gordon. What did astonish him was that Burgevine went on to propose that Gordon and he should together capture Soo-chow, throw off all allegiance to either Imperialists or rebels, organise an army 20,000 strong, and set up an independent kingdom of their own. Being a mere adventurer himself, he little understood the man of honour with whom he had to deal. Gordon at once cut short further communications. Burgevine and his men, however, being so disgusted with their masters, decided to leave them at all costs, and sent to inform Gordon that at a signal-rocket being fired by him they would rush out under pretence of a sortie and join him. The signal was given, the sortie was made, and a good many got away, but Burgevine and a few others had been suspected, and detained. When Gordon discovered this, he generously wrote to the rebel chiefs, explained to them that it was against their interests to compel men to fight against their will, and asked for their release. The messenger who bore the letter was interrogated as to whether he thought it possible for Gordon to be bought over, and his reply was of course in the negative. Strange to say, Gordon's request was granted, and Burgevine was released and handed over to the British Consul. Dr. Wilson informs us that:—