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Ever-Victorious Army

The suppression of the Tai-ping Rebellion, which had some remarkable points of similarity with the Mahdist rebellion in the Sudan, took in part the Foreign-officered Imperialist force officially called the Ch'ang Sheng Chi'un or "Ever-Victorious Army". Under Colonel Gordon this Army did essential service in clearing the province of Kiangsoo of Tai-pings, and leading to the fall of Nanking, the Rebel capital. Up to May 1860 the Tai-pings had only the Imperialists and the people of the country to contend with. A few Malays and Manilamen, and, perhaps, a crazy English sailor or two, may have found their way into the ranks on either side; but the long ten years' conflict had been entirely one of Chinese with Chinese, uninterfered with by Foreign powers and unaffected by any enlistment of Foreign auxiliaries.

The Tai-ping rebellion in part originated from the opium war, and was very nearly crushed in 1859, when a new difficulty with Foreigners came to its rescue, so there was political justice in its receiving its death-blow from the hand to which it had owed so much. Had it not been for the rude shock given to the prestige of the Imperial Government by the first war with Britain, the Rebellion would not have arisen; and had it not been for the assistance given by Foreigners towards its suppression, it might, possibly, have been uselessly devastating the country for years longer. But, in the progress of events, it was quite impossible that the Tai-pings could any longer keep clear of the Foreign element which during the few preceding years had been so rapidly blending its interests with those of the Manchu Dynasty.

Her Majesty's Government had directed all her representatives in Cathay to maintain a strict neutrality between the contending parties, so that the hands of the most ardent Mandarin sympathiser, if any such there were in her Majesty's diplomatic service, were effectually tied; while, on the other hand, there existed in Shanghai at that period a certain number of unscrupulous traders, and a considerable rowdy population whose interests lay, or were supposed to lie, in supporting the Rebellion, and fostering a state of anarchy and warfare in China.

At this moment an allied French and English expedition was on its way to Peking to avenge the Taku disaster of 1859. So strangely, however, do matters go in China, that, at the very time the allies were collecting their forces at Shanghai and elsewhere, preparatory to a march on Peking, and just at the moment they were about to start, first the Tautai of Shanghai, and then Ho Kwei-tsin, the Governor-General of Kiangsoo, who had come from Chanchu fu to the consular port, applied to the British and French authorities for assistance against the Taipings.

The "Ever-Victorious Army" was founded in 1860 by "General" Frederick Ward, an American adventurer, to take proper measures to prevent the inhabitants of Shanghai from being exposed to massacre and pillage. In Central America he had been engaged in filibustering under that celebrated chief of filibusters, General William Walker; and at Tuhuantepic he had been unsuccessfully engaged in trying to found a colony from the United States. The consuls and admirals were so desirous to avoid any unnecessary embroilment with the Tai-pings, that they arrested Ward and some of his men on the 19 May 1861, and took him to Shanghai, where he was tried as an American citizen illegally engaged in operations of war. It was arranged, that Ward should not then make any more attempts to enlist Europeans and Americans on the side of the Imperialists. Thusat this period a sincere attempt was made by the Foreign authorities to carry out a policy of complete non-intervention, and it was only after events which necessitated a departure from it. The Rebels were allowed to fight the Imperialists without any interference on the part of Foreigners, and got by far the worst of it.

The Imperial Government underwent an internal revolution after its prestige was seriously injured by the advance of the Allies to Peking. The combined French and English forces had marched upon Peking, and seized, occupied, looted utterly and then burned the Summer Palace. The Prince of Kung's coup d'etat of the 02 November 1861 overthrew the anti-Foreign party at the capital, and led to the execution of its leaders a few days after. This event consolidated friendly relationships between the Foreign Ministers and the Imperial Government; it gave an important impetus to the policy of strengthening the hands of that Government; and it gave security for a healthier and more reasonable central power in China than had existed for a long period.

By January 1862 General Ward had a drilled force of nearly 1000 Chinese. The merits of the "Ever-Victorious Army," as this infant force was now called, were very handsomely acknowledged in an Imperial decree of 16 March 1862, and 9,000 Imperial troops were ordered down to its assistance. By the summer of 1862 Ward's force was 5,000 strong, well armed with percussion muskets, and supported by artillery. This force was still paid by the Chinese merchants of Shanghai, and was only partially under the orders of the Governor of the province. By this time General Ward had a good position with the Chinese authorities, and could get what money he required without trouble. His higher officers received 70 per mensem [every month], his lieutenants 30, and the men rather more than 1s. 6d. per diem, with free rations when in the field. The non-commissioned officers and men were all Chinese, but the other officers were Europeans. A thousand of the men were armed with Prussian rifles of the old pattern, and the Ever-Victorious Army had by this time assumed, chiefly owing to Ward's exertions, a good many of the characteristics of a regular disciplined force. But General Ward unfortunately met with his death-woundi in an attack on Tseki on 21 September 1862. He survived for a short time, meeting his fate with much firmness and composure.

Command was accepted by the officer next in rank, Henry Burgevine, a young American who from an early age had cherished vague dreams of founding an empire in the East. Due to Burgevine's independent insulting demeanour, the Chinese at this time became very distrustful of the Ever-Victorious Army, and of its Commander. One consequence of this was that the merchants at Shanghai, who had hitherto supported the force from dread of the Rebels, were now not disposed to give such large sums for its maintenance as they had formerly paid.

General Charles William Dunbar Staveley, commander of the British troops remaining in China in 1862, was of the view that, if the Chinese Government wished to organise its military forces, it should be assisted in doing so under proper conditions; but he was not prepared to give his support to the Ever Victorious Army in its then unsatisfactory state, officered as it was by a body of men who, however brave, were not fit representatives of their respective nations, and who, on any disagreement arising, might turn against the Chinese Government itself. It occurred to him, however, that some more satisfactory arrangement might be made for placing the disciplined Chinese under the joint command of Native and Foreign officers; and accordingly he drew up a rough sketch of the terms on which, if his Government approved, the services of a British officer might be obtained for the purpose.

By January 1863 the prestige of the "Ever Victorious Army" was at a serious discount. For two months the troops had not been paid regularly, and when 6000 of them were ordered up to Nanking they refused to proceed until the arrears were paid. Their Commander also demanded that a number of other back claims should be cleared off before he left. The fact was, that neither the men nor the officers had much relish for being sent against the Rebel capital; for the former, being chiefly natives of the Sungkiang district, were averse, like all Chinese, to going far from home, while the latter imagined, and not without some reason, that up at Nanking both their liyes and their pay would be very much at the mercy of the Imperialists. On the other hand, the Mandarins were glad to make Burgevine feel how much he was in their power, and they probably expected that this unpleasant demand might enable them to get rid of him.

In March 1863 Major Charles George Gordon was summoned from his survey work, and the "Ever Victorious Army" had now a chief under whom it was to make good its title to that appellation. Gordon had just turned thirty a young man, truly, for a task so arduous. But men of his stamp are not to be judged by their years. The art of war, perhaps more than any other art, demands experience in its successful practitioners. But sometimes, although rarely, soldiers move to the front in whom an innate genius for war dispenses with the tuition of experience.

The fourth son of General H. W. Gordon, Royal Artillery, was born at Woolwich on 28th January 1833. He received his early education at Taunton school, and was given a cadetship in the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, in 1848. He was commissioned as second lieutenant in the corps of Royal Engineers on 23rd June 1852. The Crimean war broke out shortly afterwards, and Gordon was ordered on active service, and landed at Balaclava on 1st January 1855. The siege of Sebastopol was in progress, and he had his full share of the arduous work in the trenches. He was attached to one of the British columns which assaulted the Redan on 18th June, and was also present at the capture of that work on 8th September.

In 1860 war was declared against China, and Gordon was ordered out there, arriving at Tientsin in September. He was too late for the attack on the Taku Forts, but was present at the occupation of Peking and destruction of the Summer Palace. He remained with the British force of occupation in Northern China until April 1862, when the British troops, under the command of General Staveley, proceeded to Shanghai, in order to protect the European settlement at that place from the Taeping rebels.

The choice of Gordon to command the Ever Victoriou Army was judicious, as further events proved. In March 1863 Gordon proceeded to Sungkiang to take command of the force, which had received the name of "The Ever-Victorious Army," an encouraging though somewhat exaggerated title, considering its previous history. Without waiting to reorganize his troops he marched at once to the relief of Chansu, a town 40 miles north-west of Shanghai, which was invested by the rebels. The relief was successfully accomplished, and the operation established Gordon in the confidence of his troops.

Gordon then reorganized his force, a matter of no small difficulty, and advanced against Quinsan, which was captured, though with considerable loss. Gordon then marched through the country, seizing town after town from the rebels, until at length the great city of Suchow was invested by his army and a body of Chinese imperialist troops. The city was taken on 29 November 1863, and after its capture Gordon had a serious dispute with Li Hung Chang, as the latter had beheaded certain of the rebel leaders whose lives the former had promised to spare if they surrendered. This action, though not opposed to Chinese ethics, was so opposed to Gordon's ideas of honor, that he withdrew his force from Suchow, and remained inactive at Quinsan until February 1864.

Gordon then came to the conclusion that the subjugation of tho rebels was more important than his dispute with Li, and visited the latter in order to arrange for further operations. By mutual consent no allusion was made to the death of the Wangs. This was a good example of one of Gordon's marked characteristics, that, though a man of strong personal feelings, he was always prepared to subdue them for the public benefit. Gordon declined, however, to take any decoration or reward from the emperor for his services at the capture of Suchow. After the meeting with Li Hung Chang the "Ever-Victorious Army" again advanced and took a number of towns from the rebels, ending with Chanchufu, the principal military position of the Taepings. This fell in May 1864, when Gordon returned to Quinsan and disbanded his force.

In June 1864 the Tien Wang, the leader of the Taeping Rebellion, seeing his cause was hopeless, committed suicide, and the capture of Nanking by the imperialist troops shortly afterwards brought the Taeping revolt to a conclusion. The suppression of this serious movement was undoubtedly due in great part to the skill and energy of Gordon, who had shown remarkable qualities as a leader of men. The emperor promoted him to the rank of Titu, the highest grade in the Chinese army, and also gave him the Yellow Jacket, the most important decoration in China. He wished to give him a large sum of money, but this Gordon refused. Gordon was promoted lieutenant-colonel in the British Army for his Chinese services, though still only a captain in the corps of Royal Engineers, and made a Companion of the Bath. Henceforth he was often familiarly spoken of as "Chinese" Gordon.

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Page last modified: 20-11-2011 19:12:37 ZULU