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Luy-say / Wall of Reeds / Dong Hoi Wall

When the Le emperors became weak and inactive, two dynasties of mayors of the palace shared the power between them: on the one hand, the Trinh, installed at Hanoi beside the Le emperors, governed Tonkin; on the other, the Nguyen. In 1545 supporters of the Mac murdered Nguyen Kim and Vietnam dissolved into a long civil war that lasted for the next two centuries. The Dutch backed the northern regime, while the Portuguese backed the Nguyen by providing modern artillery.

The Nguy?n built two massive fortified lines which stretched a few miles from the sea to the hills. The walls were built north of Hu? near the city of ?ng H?i. The wall of Dong-hoi and the wall of Truong-duc were constructed by the Nguyen early in the 17th century as a defense against attack by the Trinh. The two walls, 20 feet high, were situated not far to the north of Hue. The Dong-hoi wall, 11 miles long and fortified with heavy cannons, was reinforced by the six miles of the wall of Truong Due. Some accounts describe the Dong Hoi Wall as more than 100 kilometers long, 3 meters high and 6 meters broad at the base. In over 50 years of fighting, the Trinh never managed to break through both of these walls.

In the south at Hue the rival Nguyen family supported the cause of the deposed Le dynasty. In 1620, Nguy?n Phc Nguyn officially refused to send taxes to the court in Hanoi. A formal demand was made to the Nguy?n to submit to the authority of the court, and it was formally refused. In 1623 Tr?nh Tng died and was succeeded by his son Tr?nh Trang. Now Tr?nh Trang made a formal demand for submission, and again Nguy?n Phc Nguyn refused. Finally in 1627 open warfare broke out between the Tr?nh and the Nguy?n. For four months a large Tr?nh army battled against the Nguy?n army but were unable to defeat them. The result of this war was that Vietnam had effectively been partitioned into northern and southern regions, with the Tr?nh controlling most of the north and the Nguy?n controlling most of the south; the dividing line was the Gianh River in Quang Binh Province. This border was very close to the Seventeenth parallel (in actuality the Ben Hai River located just to the south in Qu?ng Tr? Province), which was imposed as the border between North Vietnam and South Vietnam during the Partition of Vietnam (1954-1975).

A wall - some called it the "Small Wall of Vietnam" - was erected from the Annam Mountains to the sea near Dong Hoi. In the 1630s the Nguyen rulers built a wooden wall across the narrow waist of Vietnam at Dong Hoi. The Dong Hoi Wall [Le mur de Dong Hoi], constructed in 1631 by the Nguyen princes to interdict the entrance to the South by the Trinh lords, was a formidable monument twelve miles long. The wall from the Annam Mountains to the sea near Dong Hoi (very close to the seventeenth parallel, which marked the dividing line under the 1954 Geneva Agreements) separated the territories under the control of Trinh and Nguyen families.

The wall was called Luy-Say, Wall of Reeds, a muraille fortifie [strengthened wall] or groe Mauer - great wall, in olden times was the boundary of the two countries [Tonkin and Cochin China] was built further south in Quang-Binh, at a day's walk from the Song-Gianh. The disintegration of the country into two warring states was symbolized by a wall built across the narrow waist of Viet Nam at the eighteenth parallel near the town of Dong Hoi just north of Hue. Erected by the Nguyen, the wall of Dong Hoi rose to a height of eighteen feet, extended a distance of eleven miles, and in 1672 proved strong enough to withstand a major military assault.

The wall is built of bricks; it runs to the city of Quang-Binh, forms a part of the rampart of this capital, continues beyond it and finishes near the sea as a mud embankment; the boundary being completed by marshes. Luy-say, in the south of Sng-gianh, was raised by the former mayors of the palace of the south, to make itself independent of the house of Trinh which reigned in Tng-king. It was a military limit which had importance at certain times. It was ruined partly, by Gialong and its successors, and one sees more than remainders.

It was across these same shallow, hidden, manmade fords that mighty elephant armies moved south to attack the Cham and it was across these same crossings that the Le forces attacked the Nguyen Wall. The Nguy?n defended these lines against numerous Tr?nh offensives which lasted till 1672. The great military engineer was a Vietnamese general hired away from the Tr?nh court by the Nguy?n. He is given the credit in Vietnam for the successful design of the Nguy?n walls. Against the walls the Tr?nh mustered an army of 100,000 men, 500 elephants, and 500 large ships.

The initial attacks on the Nguy?n wall was unsuccessful. The attacks lasted for several years. In 1633 the Tr?nh tried an amphibious assault on the Nguy?n to get around the wall. The Tr?nh fleet was defeated by the Nguy?n fleet at the battle of Nhat-Le. Around 1635 the Tr?nh copied the Nguy?n and sought military aid from Europeans. Tr?nh Trang hired the Dutch to make cannons and ships for the Royal army. In 1642 and 1643 the Tr?nh army attacked the Nguy?n walls. With the aid of the Dutch cannons, the Tr?nh army broke through the first wall but failed to break through the second. In 1672 the Tr?nh army made a final effort to conquer the Nguy?n. The attacking army was under the command of Tr?nh Can, Tr?nh T?c's son, while the defending army was commanded by Prince Nguy?n Phc Thu?n, Nguy?n Phc T?n's son. This attack, like the previous attacks on the Nguy?n walls, failed. China intervened to broker a peace in 1673.

The long peace came to an end in 1774. The Nguy?n were under heavy assault from the Ty Son brothers and part of their army had been defeated in recent fighting in Cambodia. The result was, the army in the north defending Hu? was weak. Tr?nh Sam, one of the last Tr?nh Lords and ruler of the north, launched his attack on the Nguy?n November 15, 1774. For the first time, the Nguy?n walls were broken and captured. Nguyen Phuoc Thuan (Hue Vuong, 1765-78) was unable to halt the northern armies at the wall of Dong-hoi, built by Sai Vuong to defend his northern frontier. The wall was razed to the ground, and Hue Vuong had to flee his capital (Hue). Having seized the Nguyen capital of Hue, they were satisfied with their victory and went no further. Meanwhile, the Tay Son were free to operate in the South and sent an expedition to the Mekong Delta.

The River Ben-Hai, or the famous 17th parallel is 80 kilometers south of Dong-Hoi. By trying to turn the 17th Parallel into a new "Dong Hoi Wall" against Hanoi, the historic capital, the Americans in fact revived the southern separatism.

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