Wednesday, July 31

Tientsin to Peking - the Decision is Made

General Chaffee reached Taku at dawn on 29th July and immediately pushed on to Tientsin, arriving just before noon on the 30th. Within hours, he had called on the various generals commanding the troops of the eight nations to assess the alliance’s overall readiness and capability; and arranged a full conference of generals for 31st July. The press outnumbered the generals by a ratio of some ten-to-one at this conference, which was introduced as having the single purpose of deciding whether the alliance was ready to make a movement for the relief of Peking.
    It was disclosed in the conference that the Japanese, whose forces occupied the right bank of the river in and about Tientsin, where the British and American forces were also located, had been able to determine that the Chinese were in considerable force in the vicinity of Pei-tsang, about seven miles distance up the river from Tientsin, and that they were strengthening their position by earthworks extending from the right bank of the river westward something like thee miles, and from the left bank to the railroad embankment. The Chinese forces were variously estimated from between 10,000 to 12,000 men in the vicinity of Pei-tsang, with large bodies to the rearward as far as Yangtsun, where it was reported that their main line of defence would be encountered.
    I believe that, irrespective of this intelligence, Chaffee’s mind was already set. Nevertheless, the first question that he submitted for decision was "whether a movement could be made at once". This was answered with dissent, based on doubt that the force we could put in movement was not sufficiently strong to meet the opposition that might be expected. To this, Chaffee replied that, in addition to the Italian and Austria-Hungarian naval contingents that could remain in defence of Taku and Tientsin, the alliance forces available numbered around 18,800 and that the US contingent of some 2,100 men of the 9th and 14th Infantry regiments, together with a division from the 6th Cavalry and a Marine battalion would be leaving for Peking on Sunday 4th August.
    This statement, brazen and defiant in the face of General Gasalee's previous stance, triggered an approving cheer from the press benches; but this was nothing compared with the raucous roar that followed Chaffee's subsequent announcement that he would be accompanied by a further 3,000 British troops under the command of Admiral Seymour, who had already attempted an earlier relief expedition.

Admiral Seymour
Tientsin Conference July 1900
General Chaffee
Tientsin Conference July 1900

Explore your family history at Genes

Monday, July 29

General Chaffee to Tientsin - Action at last ..

In the immediate aftermath of the disturbing news that the advance to Peking was to be delayed, every correspondent in Tientsin spent every hour feverishly trying to gather, and make order of, whatever information could be gleaned from those that had been based in the city; and those that had experienced or witnessed the events of previous weeks. All communication with Peking was down, so nothing could be verified and, inevitably, the worst was feared. For each report purporting that the legations were safe, another presented shocking details of slaughter and massacre; and still Gasalee refused to move.

But this morning, I received the most welcome news that General Adna Chaffee, with whom I had seen action in Cuba, was on his way from the Philippines and would be in Tientsin by the end of the month. His orders were to assume command of the US forces and to take all necessary action to reach Peking as soon as possible. I knew him as a decisive and courageous leader, considered by Washington to be one of their most capable officers, and I was confident that he would be the man to break us out of Gasalee’s slough of inaction.

Explore your family history at Genes

Saturday, July 27

On the Life and Death Decisions of Generals ...

It was with more than a little relief that we were called to a press briefing on the morning of the 27th July. The young officer, Captain Jennings, who had briefed us previously aboard the USS Solace was freshly dressed, quite dapper and apparently unperturbed by what was happening in the streets and houses surrounding our base. His manner and delivery was, again, efficient and his briefing was detailed ...
Gentlemen, you are aware that the relief expedition led by General Seymour, was forced to return to Tientsin in late June, but alongside this, despite many rumours and press reports to the contrary, we can report that the citizens and guards in the foreign legations at Peking are safe and that, since the 17th July, there appears to have been a lull in the hostilities there.
    Concerning the situation here in Tientsin, which was under siege from early June, the allied forces initially underestimated the capability of the Chinese forces, thinking that they could easily be brushed aside. This turned out to be a grave error in the face of fierce Chinese resistance. However, on 13th July, after further reinforcements had arrived, the eight-nation allied force to assault the walled city of Tientsin consisted of about 6,900 soldiers: 2,500 Russians, 2,000 Japanese, 900 Americans, 800 British, 600 French, and 100 Germans and Austrians. The challenge was substantial. The walls of Tientsin are 20 feet high and 16 feet thick, the Chinese had about 12,000 soldiers within the city or in nearby forts. The plan of the allies was to storm the city on two sides: British, American, Japanese and French troops would attack the South Gate; Russian and German troops would attack the East Gate.
    Initially the attack went poorly for the Allies in large part due to some breakdown in overall command, a number of communication failures and un-coordinated troop deployments. The main effort against the South Gate became pinned down in an exposed position under Chinese fire from within the city. The allied troops were forced to lie face down in mud, wherein the dark-blue American uniforms provided targets for the Chinese troops, and severe losses were suffered by the allies.
    Eventually the allied attacks were successful and at 3.00 am on the morning of the 14th, the Japanese force broke through the South gate, followed shortly by the Russians at the east gate and, in the face of these allied victories, the Chinese defenders made good their escape.
    For the alliance, this was a difficult battle with heavy casualties. Two hundred and fifty soldiers of the allied armies were killed and about 500 wounded. The Japanese lost 320 killed and wounded; the Russians and Germans 44 killed and some 100 wounded; the Americans 25 killed, and 98 wounded; the British, 17 killed and 87 wounded; and the French 13 killed and 50 wounded. Chinese casualties, military and civilian, are unknown, but probably heavy.
Captain Jennings then said that he would answer questions - but I doubt that he expected the furore that this simple statement unleashed. The two issues to which the assembled media demanded responses were: the looting, the atrocities and the killings to which most had already been horrified witnesses; and an explanation of why the relief expedition had not yet left for Peking. He responded ...
Once inside the city there were some additional communication breakdowns and some instances of looting by the allied forces. As the Chinese soldiers had already withdrawn it was the local Chinese who suffered the most and some civilians were killed in the skirmishes. We have no reports of American troops being involved but there have been some instances of allied troops assaulting civilians, including the rape of some women. The German and Russian commands are currently conducting inquiries into reports that their troops have behaved with particular savagery, bayoneting their victims after they had abused them. It is also reported that the allies have covered up a number of atrocities by labelling all Chinese dead as Boxers, which lends legitimacy to the killings. In addition, we are aware that the Japanese have executed some suspected Boxers by beheading them but, conversely, they are acclaimed by the local citizens to be the best behaved of all the foreign soldiers.
   So far as the relief expedition is concerned, out latest information is that, because of the fighting prowess and the strength of resistance already demonstrated by the Chinese, it is estimated that at least 50,000 to 70,000 troops will be necessary to mount a successful campaign. More troops from all of the eight nations in the alliance are currently en route for Tientsin and the expedition will be mounted as soon as these forces are in place. Major-General Gasalee, who will be leading the expedition has indicated that he expects this to be within the next three to four weeks. Thank you Gentlemen, that is all ...
To say that the silence was deafening as Captain Jennings left the briefing room, would be an understatement of the highest order, and it took several minutes for us to assimilate what we had just been told. Had we heard correctly that the 900 souls in Peking, who had already been under siege for more than a month were to be left - isolated and alone - for at least another four weeks? Could it be true that, with more than 35,000 troops already garrisoned in Tientsin, and more arriving daily, our gallant Generals had decided that this force needed to be at least double in strength before they would be able to challenge an enemy that was already defeated and in flight?
    How can it be that those considered to be amongst our best soldiers, promoted to the highest military offices, appear habitually incapable of making clear, correct and courageous decisions ...?

Officers and Soldiers of the Eight-Nation Alliance

Major-General Albert Gasalee
Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire
Commander, Eight-Nation Alliance Forces, Tientsin 1900

Explore your family history at Genes

Thursday, July 25

Tientsin - the Nightmare Continues ..

I had barely settled in to my billet when a thundering rattle of my door introduced Bennet Burleigh. It was only a matter of hours since we had disembarked from the USS Solace together but now, almost incoherent with his urgency, I could not recall ever seeing such a dramatic change in any man in so short a time. He insisted that I accompany him immediately to meet the correspondent of the Shanghai Mercury who, Burleigh shouted, ".. knows what has happened"
      We sprinted across the harbour square to the north wall of the old city, now the base for a swarthy, heavily armed squad of Russian troops. Burleigh's contact was there, squatting against the wall, surrounded by an ugly, threatening crowd driven by what I could only describe as a mix of blood-lust, hatred and terror in their wild-eyed raging. His camera was focussed on three bloodied bodies that lay at his feet; and it seemed that his journalistic integrity had rendered him completely oblivious to the life-threatening mob around him.
      Burleigh snatched up his camera while I dragged him to his feet; and we made off down the crumbling steps. Some spirit must have been watching over us because, instead of giving chase as we feared, the mob stayed atop the wall. We raced around the base of the wall, desperately searching for some cover or hiding-place; only to hurtle almost headlong into the backs of another crowd, so close that we instantly saw the executioner's blade at the start of its downswing and the collapse of the headless body as it crumpled to the blood-strewn earth.
      I have witnessed killings in other wars, just as cruel and just as barbarous - but I have never before experienced such revulsion or such terror as on this evil day, in this evil place ...

The Correspondent at Work

A Boxer Execution Taking Place

Execution Aftermath

Explore your family history at Genes

Arrival at Tientsin .. The Gates to Hell

Past the burning forts at Taku, the USS Solace slid from the Yellow sea into the Bohai basin and found her berth amongst the dozens of gunboats and warships clogging the harbour. With little but rumours of murder and slaughter to inform us, it was with a terrible sense of foreboding that we disembarked.
       For a description to capture that moment, I could only have likened it to walking into the depths of Hades itself. The overpowering stench was more revolting than any I had suffered, even in the fetid swamps of Kumassi; and was matched in intensity only by the visual horrors before us. There was hardly a building standing and a pall of thick smoke hung everywhere, giving an acrid, ugly taste to the very air that we breathed. Thousands of people milled aimlessly from ruin to ruin; or squatted, expressionless, like dumb animals unaware that they were about to be slaughtered.
       Everywhere was chaos. Putrid corpses lay rotting in the streets, while women and children ran in terror from the carnage around them or stood huddled, almost comatose, in abject groups. Side-by-side, soldiers and civilians together were bent on a rampage of open looting, interrupted only by sporadic gunfire as before my eyes, people were shot for carrying some minor cudgel or knife in a pointless attempt to protect themselves.
       The madness of this devilish vista was compounded by the vision of a solitary family still grasping for a finger-hold on normality as they sat together eating the scraps of a meal in the ruin of their destroyed home.
       As we moved to quarters in the military compound, I knew that tomorrow I must locate somebody, somewhere in this place who could un-clutter and re-paint the horrendous pictures now filling my mind with the sharpness and clarity that comes from fact rather than the nightmares of imagination ...

The Ruins of Tientsin City

The Women and Children of Tientsin

Seeking Normality Amongst the Madness

Explore your family history at Genes

Monday, July 22

The Truth of Tientsin .. to Relieve or to Revenge?

We are now just days away from Tientsin; a force of many thousands massing to relieve those poor souls trapped in the foreign legations at Peking. But they are now telling us that all are already dead .. tortured, murdered, slaughtered by these Chinese barbarians. So who is left for us to rescue? Has our mission failed by days? Are we here to relieve? Or are we now here to revenge?
      We can not be certain of course, until we arrive and can see for ourselves the truth of what has taken place at Peking. For now, we have only the press headlines to inform us; and we can only pray that they are an exaggeration of reality ...

Explore your family history at Genes

Tuesday, July 16

A Press Briefing .. and More Rumours of Massacre

Three days in to our voyage and even amongst the most hardened and experienced press-hounds, the dangerous combination of boredom, frustration and speculation had begun to spawn a swell of rumours. So it was with some relief that on the morning of 16th July, we were called to a second briefing by the most efficient and professional communications officer, Captain Jennings ...
Gentlemen, we have now completed our analysis of all the information that we have received about the situation at the foreign legations and, at this time, we area able to advise you that:
   A census at the legations, taken on 2 July has identified 473 civilians: 245 men, 149 women, and 79 children, of which British and American nationals are the most numerous. There are also 409 military guards; British, American, French, German, Japanese, and Russian, defending the legations. About 150 of the civilians are actively assisting the guards in their operations.
   The Austrian and Italian legations have been abandoned and the majority of the civilians have taken refuge in the British Embassy, the largest and most defensible of the legations.
   The British Minister Claude MacDonald is acting as the commander of the defence, with Herbert G. Squiers, an American diplomat as his chief of staff. Defence lines have been established in an area known as the Fu, a large palace and park, where approximately 2,000 Chinese Christians have been taking refuge
   On July 3, the foreigners launched an assault against the Chinese with 26 British, 15 Russian, and 15 Americans under the command of American Captain John T. Myers. A number of Chinese troops were killed in this assault.
   That is all the confirmed information that we have for you at this time. We can also advise you that further information, in the form of recently published newspaper reports, has not been verified and we request that you take this into consideration when filing your reports.
      An urgent sea of hands was immediately raised, signifying the numerous questions that we all had. These were left unanswered, though, with the polite but precise missive from the young officer that there was no further information, but we would be advised as soon as there was ...

Report of the Massacre at Peking

Explore your family history at Genes

Friday, July 12

From San Francisco for Tientsin

Unlike the chaos that had prevailed during the Cuba troop deployment at Tampa Bay, efficiency, urgency, clear communications and disciplined organisation characterised the military operations that we encountered when we pulled in to the rail terminus at San Francisco. In a little over four weeks, more than 6,000 troops had been mobilised and were transiting through the port, thirty ships were already en route via Manila, Guam and the Philipines, and a further ten were set to depart within days.
      Within an hour of our arrival, we learned that USS Yorktown had already sailed but we had been allocated alternative berths on USS Solace. We were also advised that there would be a press briefing at 6 o'clock, which gave me just over an hour to contact Adolph Ochs at the New York Times to clarify and confirm the details of my commission.
      The briefing was a straightforward chronological summary of the facts and events to date; understated and unhindered by emotion or opinion, and it will serve well to simply repeat it here, verbatim:
Gentlemen, USS Solace will depart San Francisco at 04.00 tomorrow, 13th July for Tientsin, China. We will be travelling at top speed and it is expected that we will arrive on 27th July. I will now outline the details of the operation, beginning with the burning of a station on the Lu Han railway line on 17th May. This was the first indication that a move to expel foreigners from China had broken out. Previous to this, the Foreign Ministers at Peking had sent a joint note to the Chinese Government calling attention to the Boxer troubles, but it cannot be said that even the signatories themselves fully realised the extent of this.
   From the 17th May, events followed each other with startling rapidity. On 26th May, the Boxers burned the stations on the Railway between Peking and Paotingfu; Fengtai station and works were burnt; and railway communication between Peking and Tientsin was interrupted, while the Belgian engineers and other refugees from Paotingfu had to leave and make their way to Tientsin
   Communication with Peking was temporarily restored on the 29th May, at which time Foreign Ministers urgently requested military guards for their respective Legations. On the 30th May these forces began to arrive at Tientsin. On the 31st, British, American, French, Russian, Italian and Japanese guards for the Legations left Tientsin by rail. They reached Peking safely, but their presence triggered further outbreaks of increased violence. A fire occurred in Tientsin on the 1st June and on 5th, railway communication between Peking and Tientsin was finally cut.
   A large force landed at Taku on the 7th June and on the 10th Admiral Seymour left Tientsin with 2,000 Allied troops to attempt the relief of the Legations. At the same time all communication between the Legations and the outside world suddenly ceased. On the 11th June the Secretary of the Japanese Legation was murdered in the streets of Peking, and on the 20th, Baron von Ketteler, the German Minister, who was proceeding to interview the members of the Tsungli Yamen about this, was killed in the streets by an officer of the regular Chinese troops.
   On 14th June Admiral Seymour was completely cut off, the railway having been destroyed behind him. Communication between his force and Tientsin was lost. At this time the position at Tientsin became critical, the city now being completely in the hands of the Boxers. All the Christian Chapels in the city were burned and many native Christians murdered.
   On the 16th June the Allied naval commanders demanded the surrender of the Taku forts, but in reply to this ultimatum, the forts opened fire on the foreign gunboats in the Peiho river early on the morning of the 17th. After a fierce fight between the gunboats and the forts, a magazine in one of the forts was blown up by a shell, and the other forts were taken by storm.
   On the same date the Chinese commenced the bombardment of Tientsin. Two attempts to reach Tientsin from Taku failed, but a third attempt on 23rd June was successful, although the Chinese Boxers and regular soldiers remained in force in the neighbourhood, and the bombardment from the city continued.
   Admiral Seymour, who had managed to force his way to within 25 miles of Peking, found further advance impossible, and was compelled to retreat. On 26th June, being joined by a small force from Tientsin, he succeeded in returning there in safety. Foreign troops had in the meanwhile been arriving at Taku, and it was possible to reinforce Tientsin.
   Messages from Sir Robert Hart, Sir Claude Macdonald and Mr. Conner were received through native runners on the 30th June and 1st July, all of which reported the situation of the Legations as desperate.
   On the 9th July the Japanese captured the Tientsin Arsenal, and yesterday, the 11th, the Allies made a combined attack on the native city, which was re-captured, but with heavy losses.
   Thank you Gentlemen, that is all the information we have at this time. We have some additinal information to analyse and, when this analysis is completed, there will be further briefings on board.
Although this filled in a lot of the gaps in our general understanding of the situation, it was clear - mainly from what was left unsaid - that for some considerable time no communication had been received from Peking. This ominous silence gave rise to the gravest fears for the safety of the besieged foreigners, and lent credence to the disturbing rumours of bloodshed and massacre that were circulating.
      With one or two exceptions, we had all seen battle before but, in truth, on this occasion we had no real idea of what to expect, and it was with mixed feelings of fear and excitement that in the grey slivers of dawn, we slipped quietly from the San Francisco sea-wall, heading towards the unknown ...

Press Reports and Rumours

USS Solace leaving San Francisco

Explore your family history at Genes

Sunday, July 7

Remembering the Killing Fields of Kumassi

      The SS Furnessia had reached New York on schedule and Mary is now back with her family. I boarded the train at six-thirty this morning and in front of me lies the tedious three day train journey to San Francisco. My fellow passengers are mainly men from the services transiting between duties, and businessmen chasing the opportunities that foreign conflicts always bring to the fore. There is also a strong contingent of fellow press, and I was pleased to see amongst them my friend Bennet Burleigh from the Daily Telegraph.
      We paid the conductor what seemed like an exorbitant amount to find seats for us together; but this was a mere pittance, in fact, for turning the trip from what would otherwise have been mind-numbing monotony to the excitement of speculation and anticipation about our imminent foray into the lands of the Qing dynasty, and reminiscences of our time spent in East Africa.
      Other than a general understanding that they were an anti-Christian, anti-foreign peasant movement, related to the secret societies that had flourished in China for centuries, we knew little of the Boxers. What was clear, though, from the reports of Morrison, from the Times, was that the fate of those trapped in the foreign legations of Peking was in the balance, and that occurrences of murder and atrocity featured routinely in the Boxer campaign. This immediately brought to mind the analogous situation that we had experienced some four years earlier with the Ashanti expedition to relieve Kumassi from the brutal oppression of Prempeh. The similarities were almost eerie: a long and difficult journey to a foreign port of arrival; a forced march with enemy attack a constant threat; power-crazed military leaders bereft of any moral compass; and the sacrifice of innocent lives the ultimate cost of failure.
      It would be some time before we reached China and we could, of course, only wonder what we would find and what fate awaited us. I can not recall that we ever discussed our fears openly but I am certain that both of us prayed that we would not have to re-live the horrors that had haunted us since Kumassi ...

Ashanti Leader
Kumassi - 1896

Boxer Leader
Peking - 1900

Read the full sory of: The Killing Fields of Kumassi - (pdf: 852 Kb)
or the individual chapters of: To Kumassi with Scott

From: Under Three Flags in Cuba ... Buy this Book

Explore your family history at Genes