Narrative of USS Monocacy Participation in the Defence of Tientsin by W. T. Kendall Brown
W.T. Kendall served aboard the USS Monocacy and was a volunteer for the Monocacy detachment sent to defend the U.S. legation in Tientsin in June 1900. His narrative of the defence of Tientsin was published in issue 24 of The Military Engineer, May-June 1932. The text below is a transcript of his original manuscript.
The Siege of Tientsin
The recent happenings in the Far East perhaps more forcibly bring to mind the stirring event of the year 1900. It was the good fortune of the writer to, at that time, be located in Shanghai, attached to the Equipment and Construction Department of the United States Ship, Monocacy. We say good fortune, for, in looking backward, it is with much interest that we go over the events of the year 1900. Early in the Spring of this year, trouble began brewing with the Northern provinces of Chin. Rumor after rumor of the happenings in the far north came down to the metropolis until finally the local papers published edicts, presumably originating in the Imperial City. The clever old lady at Peking, of whom all loyal Chinese stood so much in awe, had her own way at last and deposed his Imperial Majesty in Kwang Hsu and his name at this time was practically stricken from the list of emperors of the eastern empire, a descendant of the Imperial Clan being destined to reign in his stead.
Several months previous to this information the compilers of the Imperial Almanac were instructed to leave the name of the Emperor a blank in this year’s issue, and on Tuesday, the 23rd of January, the Empress Dowager sent a sudden summons to four of the Manchu princes, members of the Imperial Clan, the Grand secretary, and other high officers of the court to attend an important meeting at the palace. The name of Prince Tuan was omitted from the list of those commanded to attend. The outcome of this conspiracy was an Imperial decree to which we have before alluded, commanding the assembly of all Princes of the First and Third orders, Grand Secretaries, Lord Chamberlin, Minister of the Presence, Grand Council, Board of Controllers, General of the Imperial Household Department, the Manchu and Chinese Presidents of the Six Boards and Nine Ministers, and the Heads of the Imperial Academy and Library. The calling together of these high officials was significant of some great crisis. On the 24th of January came the resignation of the Emperor, Kwang Hsu, in which he said: “A year has now passed and still we find ourselves an invalid, ever keeping in mind that we do not belong to the direct succession and that for the sake of the safety of the Empire of our ancestors, a legal heir should be selected to the Throne. We again prayed the Empress Dowager to carefully choose from among the members of the Imperial Clan such a one, and this she had done in the person of Pu Chun, son of Tsai Yi, Prince Tuan, Second Order.
The placing of Pu Chun on the Throne as a successor to Emperor Tung Chih looked as if, after reigning twenty-five years, they had suddenly discovered that Kwang Hsu’s election as successor to Tung Chich was illegal, which left him in history as a usurper of the Throne.
The Dowager Empress had been cunning enough to assure herself of full power for some time to come, as Pu Chun was a nine year old boy and yet young enough to be instructed to her own fancy. What effect this had upon the Empire, we have yet to see, but a continuation of the Empress Dowager’s policy of corruption and misgovernment means eventually the ruin of the Empire and probably the partition of China by civilised powers.
After these startling rumors from the far north came others of massacre of foreign residents, and later the information that all nations had dispatched vessels of war to the mouth of the Peiho river, which is the gateway that leads to Peking from the Gulf of Pichili.
The United States Cruiser Monocacy had been stationed in Chinese waters since the year 1865. She was built in ninety days, near the close of the Civil War by William Denmead & Sons, of Baltimore, and registered some 1363 tons. Early in her career, she was used as flagship on the Asiatic station, with powerful engines and a speed of thirteen knots, she was at that time considered a “crack boat,” her main battery consisting of eight eight inch Dalgreen guns, which in 1900 were still in service, and, in addition, she was equipped with four thirty-seven millimetres and two forty-seven millimetres rapid fire Hotchkiss guns, which made up her secondary battery. Little did any of us think that the old Monocacy would see active service, with all the rumors that were rife. We had received orders to coal and provision, but nothing definite was expected.
On Sunday, June 10th, a cablegram came from Manilla, “Monocacy proceed to Taku at once.” All was hurry and hustle in steam launch, boats and guns secured for sea. Monday at 1 P.M. we were away, and the old Monocacy steamed as she never steamed before. With a sea like glass, her shard bow out the water as a knife. One would think her on her trial trip rather than a vessel which had lived to see many of the old associates go to “rotten row.” At 8 A.M. Thursday, we sighted the fleet outside Taku Bar, and at 10:30 requested permission to anchor from the Flagship Newark. A ghostly sight! Twenty-eight of the world’s big fighting machines all but deserted; such an air of desolation, and a low coast line barely visible. At 2 P.M. we had orders to cross the bar and anchor for the night between the two forts at the mouth of the Peiho. We also received the good news that the Chinese intended to fire on the “White Devil” if she entered the river. However, luckily for us, they did not, and Friday morning at daybreak we steamed up just below the Tongku railroad station, and made fast to the bank. All kinds of rumors were shout, “Admiral Seymour’s forces were cut off, all Americans and foreigners in Peking were killed.” Twenty-one of us with gattling gun, ammunition and three days’ provision, Lieutenant Noble Irwin in charge, answered the call for volunteers as a guns crew to protect the U.S. consulate at Tientsin.
The village of Taku is the coast terminal of the Chinese Imperial railways, a branch running from this port to Shanghai Kwan, which is an outlet to the Kaiming coal mines, the main line running northward through Tientsin by rail is a distance of some twenty-six miles from Taku, while the river route is some forty odd miles. At the Imperial railway station, a train was made up consisting of an engine and several freight cars, on to one of which we loaded our guns, ammunition, etc. Our orders were to report to the U.S. Consul in Tientsin. No one seemed to have any very definite information as to the exact situation, but we arrived in Tientsin at 11:00 A.M. without interference, either from the so-called Boxers of from the Imperial Troops. At the Tientsin station, we found English bluejackets and Captain Bailey, R.N. (whom we dubbed John Bull) keeping things in order. Bluejackets of all nations were rushing around and all seemed to have a businesslike and determined look. Opposite the station a detachment of Russian infantry was encamped. Leaving the train, we pushed our way through a crowd of restless Chinese to the American board of Foreign Missions, where a large house in the compound had been allotted to us for quarters. Here we found twenty-four marines who had come up some five days before doing guard duty, and making themselves as comfortable as possible.
At 2 P.M. we were seated under the trees, loafing, napping, smoking and enjoying ourselves generally as only a sailor can do under any circumstances, when the report came from the U.S. consulate that the Boxers were advancing on the city by way of Taku road. How quickly the scene changed. Canteens and belts went on like a flash. “Turn out the guard! Fall in! Man the Gattling! Heavy drag! Forward! Double time, March!” came the orders in quick succession. Away we went with a rush and a rattle, very much as a fire engine gets under way. We were now fairly launched in our new business of “Salt Water Cops.” Five hundred yards down the road we came to a halt for here began the Chinese shacks, which filled up the space between the European settlement proper, and the old city wall. It proved to be a false alarm, however, so unlimbering our gattling and stationing out posts, the rest of us retired to the compound.
As night came on, fires were seen in the direction of the old city, and now and then the evening breeze wafted to us the howling and screeching of an immense mob. At ten all hands except our outposts and sentries turned in and were soon fast asleep, each man with one hundred and fifty rounds of ammunition in his belt, and revolver and canteen strapped on. At about midnight, I was awakened by the shot of a heavy gun, and as I came upon my feet, it was followed by a second and third report, than came the shouts of the sentries and outposts, as the word was passed up to the barracks, “Turn out the guard!” Out we came, tumbling and scrambling, tightening our equipment as we ran. “Fall in! Count fours! Right forward! Double time!” Down the long brick walk of the compound we went at canter, each man’s blood tingling and ready for the fray, for the bottomless feeling in a man’s stomach does not come to a brave man until his companion in arms sinks beside him with that queer rattle in his throat, and he hears those words which are perhaps more often spoken than any others by a man when hit, “My God.” Then his feet get cold, but right here the brave man takes his cue. The tears start to his eyes, his lip quivers, then the jaw settles, his teeth are tightly set, the blood goes through him by leaps and bounds, an oath comes to his lips, he is a soldier, hell fire cannot stop him now, and God help the poor devil who gets in his way. Lights were glimmering in the houses of the compound as we passed, and for a moment I though of the poor children, no enemy in sight, only fire all around, and the occasional rrrrrrrip of a volley from the Russians at the railway station came rattling up. No more sleep for Jack, and we could hear thousands howling like demons way off toward the old city.
Saturday, June 16th, the people were getting out of the city like rats, the English, Germans and Americans operating an armoured train to Taku. The paymaster of the Monocacy came up with stores for the Peking relief, but reports show that the Boxers had torn up the road several miles up the line, and it would be impossible to get a train out. This morning we ran into a company of Boxers before breakfast, and demonstrated to sixteen of them that they were not invulnerable. All the afternoon such of us as were not on guard duty were busy moving stores from the railway station to our barracks, a distance of about a mile.
Our only means of transportation were Rickshaws, which we had commandeered. About three in the afternoon I came up to the barracks with two other bluejackets as convoy to a store train, made up of six Rickshaws and some twelve Coolies. In the compound we found all the missionaries making rapid preparations to leave, as word had been sent up advising all women, children and non combatants to go to Taku in an armoured train, which would leave the station at four o’clock. One of the gentlemen asked to use the Rickshaws to convey the women and children on the street. Then my trouble began. Knowing the necessity of making the most of every moment, I stood and bit my lips listening to a middle aged lady who persisted in delaying our departure by going back after something, and standing helplessly moaning “Oh my poor people. Oh I must save my books.” The silent agony of a young woman who sat in a Rickshaw with a year old child in her arms really kept me quiet for a time.
Realizing how hard it must be for one who had perhaps spent nearly a life time in this place to leave it so hastily, I refrained from expressing myself, but felt very much like saying “Damn the people and damn your books.” I finally persuaded her that it was necessary for her to start at once, and I presume that she to this day thinks me a very disagreeable sort of a person. However, the smile of relief that came to the face of the mother when our little procession started was worth more to me than the commendatory opinion as to my standing as a gentleman from the more elderly lady. Fortunately we made connections with the trains, and at dusk finished our work, a dusty, tired and sunburned lot of sailors.
At supper we heard the report that some three hundred and fifty of our forces had gone down to Taku to act as a landing force in taking the forts at the mouth of the Peiho. This reduced our forces to some eighteen hundred men. At 7 A.M. the paymaster and a bluejacket started off to take an armoured train for Tongku. Chinese came in with the report that the Boxers intended to make a decisive attack on the city at night, burn it and massacre all Europeans; that we had ten thousand Boxers just outside our outposts, and many reports even made it one hundred thousand; that two miles away was a city of more than a million souls, and within twenty miles were twenty-five thousand Imperial troops ready for the word. All this we knew, and every man I think felt the gravity of the situation. Extra guards were detailed for outpost duty, the gun crew to sleep at their gun. Four men were detailed to boil water for every precaution must be taken to prevent the reduction of our forces by illness, and the days were very hot. The rest of the guard turned in on an earth tennis court, just inside the compound wall. For sixty-eight hours most of us had not had more than four hours sleep, and bricks made soft pillows.
Some twenty minutes after we had turned in, and just as most of us were getting a glimpse of faces dear, and heard the music of pleasant voices, a hideous unearthly noise brought us to a sitting position, “What t’---l is that,” came the question for all sides. The sound came from a building, evidently used as a chapel. We waited some fifteen minutes – the air around that tennis court being at that time a tinge of blue verging on black – then two or three of the more eloquent of our little band went to the door of the building and announced themselves with the butts of their rifles, informing the inmates in that plain but forcible language that a sailor knows best how to use, to “pipe down;” as we wanted to sleep. The American missionary took his band of some fifty Chinese away so we again went to our much needed rest, to dream of the American missionary, a baby organ and the crowd of heathen Chinese trying to translate Moody and Sankey into their difficult language.
We had been asleep perhaps an hour when word came up to turn out the guard. We were out in a “jiffy” and stood shivering in the cool night air. A young English officer and several of the Tientsin volunteer force were standing in the street, and an attack was expected probably by Taku road. Buglers had been stationed to sound assembly, which meant that all remaining women and children and their civilian protectors were to assemble at Gordon Hall. All was still, so still we could hear the voices of our officers and lookouts stationed in a tower some hundred yards down the road. Fires all around; and now and then voices of thousands in tumult came upon the night wind. Here a certain old doctor, God bless him, he meant well, took upon himself to do voluntary scout duty, going far outside our outposts. He certainly did not add to our chances for rest. At intervals of forty minutes, he would come tearing up the road as if all the imps in hell were after him, in one hand a Winchester, and in the other a Webley bulldog, shouting as he ran “They are coming, they are coming, ten thousand of them.” It was certainly a laughable sight as he went tearing along; his long white linen coat tails streaming out behind, and his gold rimmed glasses flashing in the glimmer of the street light certainly made him look very ridiculous. He was not alone in this, for two Tientsin mounted volunteers would perform the same fate, coming back with their horses on the level, shouting that terrible cry, à la Paul Revere, “They are coming.” This was kept up all night, and many were the blessings asked for Captain Bailey, R.N., our commander in chief, when he sent up orders to allow no one to pass our outposts.
At breakfast all looked weary and much in need of rest. The English sent up word for the volunteers from our force who knew anything of railroading to assist in manning an armoured train, which was to be put out on scout duty as far up the line as possible, ascertaining the amount of damage done to the road bed, for provisions must be gotten to Admiral Seymour’s column, which we had reason to believe had never reached Peking. Three of our men went out but returned before noon reporting that they had only been able to get out some two miles where they found the road torn up and bridges burned. While investigating the amount of the damage, they were suddenly fired on by a company of some three hundred Imperial troops from the cover of rifle pits. A sharp reply as made with small arms, and a six pounder, which they had mounted on a flat car. However, as the enemy was concealed and the train offered such a grand target to their volleys they chose discretion as the better part of valor, and retreated in good order to the city.
About noon, a telephone message was received from Captain Wise, U.S.N. “Taku forts taken, Monocacy struck with 9 inch shell, women and children safe.” About this time, paymaster Lukesh, who had started for Taku the evening before, returned, reporting that the train went within five miles of Tangku where they were in sight and hearing of a terrific bombardment, but not knowing how the battle was turning, and, as even at that distance, the train was struck several times, they returned to Tientsin. This was the last news from Taku for six days.
At 1:45 P.M. while stationed at the gattling gun with seaman, Frank Pape, the lookout on the tower wigwagged that a large body of troops were marching along the west all of the old city, some two miles away, and to send sentry on #7 outpost out as scout, one of us at the gun covering his post. A few moments later we were startled by the report of a heavy gun. Had the Russians started the fight? Everyone was looking and wondering, then came more, and far above our heads four or five great white clouds of smoke burst out, followed by the heavy report of bursting shells. Then we knew that the Chinese had started in to exterminate the “White Devil,” and, as soon as they had the range down, some of those death dealing missiles, which looked so beautiful bursting up there against that blue June sky would be sending one, perhaps all of us before our Maker.
One must act quickly in these times. Away went the Russians with what artillery they had, to hold the railroad station. What was a few minutes before a beautiful quiet June Sunday was now a scene of action. As I looked up the long street, companies of bluejackets swung into it in quick time, mounted messengers thundered along, then a small troop of Cossacks on their rugged little ponies. Down the street, double time, came a company of French bluejackets with automatic gun. Now things began to warm up, and the rattle of small arms were added to the boom of heavy guns and bursting shells. A strong wind was blowing away from us toward the old city, before us laying a mile of country covered with Chinese shacks which hid the enemy and made a bad fighting ground. A store house of oil was located and the order given to burn. In a few moments, we had a line of fire half a mile long, rushing away toward the old city, clearing the ground and at the same time insuring us from attack on that side.
Lieutenant Irwin sent word to a company of English asking them to join us and the French in an attack on the west arsenal, which was located some two miles away. We had been informed that this arsenal was used mainly as a store house for small arms and ammunition, and was surrounded by a mud wall just outside of which was a moat. The English readily consented, but the French was constituted one-half of our attacking force of one hundred and fifty men seemed to be more interested in collecting cattle than in making an attack, and backed out at the last moment.
Soon we heard the rattle of small arms just across the river, which we found came from the English who were making a decisive attack on the war college; some one hundred and fifty bluejackets and marines crossing the river in boats drove the embrio generals from the barracks and setting fire to the warehouses filled with ammunition and accoutrements made well their retreat with only a few wounded. We had no time to lose, as large bodies of troops were moving away out on the plains, and every one worked quickly. The decisive attack at the military college and the sharp quick work of the Russians at the railway station I’ve no doubt saved the day, the Chinese at that time feeling that it would be an easy matter to take the city and its defenders after a few hours bombardment.
I wonder if anyone slept in Tientsin that night. All night long we fought, an invisible an enemy, firing at their gun flashes, the bombardment increasing until half the city was in flames from shell fire. Great heaps of brick and mortar came tumbling about ones ears as they passed through the streets. To add to the tumult away into the night came one continuous volley from the burning ammunition at the war college.
At 5 A.M. Monday scouts came in with information. A crowd of some eight hundred Boxers were moving down the river apparently intending to attack by Taku road. Out went thirty-two of us; down the road through the district we had burned the day before we went at a double. Four hundred yards from the end of the road our second section was halted to act as a rear guard, for many ruins still stood, and it would be easy to cut us off. As we neared the river the street narrowed so that two and four were ordered to fall back, forming us into two sections. At the end of the street we came to a halt with the river directly in front. There on our left, some four hundred yards up the river, was a mob of howling fanatics armed with all kinds of grotesque implements of war. Sharp came the command, “Front rank kneel! Front rank ready! Aim! Fire!” “Rear rank ready! Aim! Fire!” Three volleys were fired, knocking them over like ten pins. “Cease firing.” They had all gone in a mad rush; none remained to save the dead and wounded. We had done some terrible execution; then came our turn, dirt began flying from in front of us, bits of brick from the buildings around us, and suddenly the air was filled with that nasty sound very much like that produced by striking a tautly drawn telegraph wire.
Marine Nichols of Folsom, California, the second man on my right in front rank lurched forward and exclaimed “My God, they’ve got me right in the groin.” Thomas Yergey on my right suddenly seemed interested in a certain portion of his anatomy and started off with the assistance of two marines to the rear. As Nichols turned, he sank slowly toward the ground. I caught him on my arm, and E. E. Gold of Chicago came to my assistance. We were ambushed. Where the hell was coming from we could not tell, in a narrow street which offered no cover. To retreat we must remain under fire something over a hundred yards before we could gain the protection of any building. A rattle of skirmish fire behind us told us that they were trying to cut us off.
No command was given, the men retreating, followed by Lieutenant Irwin. Marines Heard and Cook came to our assistance, the rest having gone in a mad rush. Poor Nichols was apparently breathing his last, and as we carefully raised him, I felt the burning sting of a bullet as it plowed its way across my right ankle, just grazing the shin bone. We might not any of us have been brave men, but slowly we carried him and tenderly too. How we came out of that hail of hell unscathed I do not know, but every bullet has its mark, and our time had not yet come. We passed our skirmish line which was thrown out into the open and some five hundred yards further met two missionaries, who, with the assistance of some loyal Chinese took charge of Nichols. Back we went to the firing line, but it was sharp shooting at fifteen hundred yards. The modern rifle which kills at four thousand yards with smokeless powder, and a report which cannot be heard two hundred yards against the wind is a bad thing to go up against, and the enemy hard to locate. The Chinese had evidently made good use of their time for the bombardment was increasing in vigor. Shells were falling thick and fast and shell fire in a town has many more dangers than in the open. Lieutenant Irwin, understanding that a man fights best on a full stomach threw out his outposts and covering the gun retired with the rest to the compound for breakfast and a smoke. After breakfast many of us sat under the trees of the compound smoking, chatting, yes and even laughing, for such is a soldier’s life. Overheard was the continual hiss of the mannlicher fired from over a mile away. The boom of great guns, and bang of bursting shell all around us and, now and then leaves and twigs, would come floating down from the treetops, but no one seemed to mind it. Suddenly dirt flew all around us, sharp reports of smokeless powder ammunition within a hundred feet of us. Snipers get! The God fearing Chinese, whom the missionaries vouched for and who had been allowed quarters in and about the compound were simply taking pot shots at us with mauser pistols. Everyone went in a mad rush, six-shooters cracked spitefully, and in a few seconds nearly every building in the compound was filled with men looking to kill. The Chinese made good their escape, we finding no one. Just at this time an English aid came up with orders for us to move to a more secure part of the town, as our position was somewhat isolated from the main garrison, and at most we were but a handful. Now all was again hurry and bustle, bodies of men were sent out to commandeer rickshaws for transportation purposes. All around us was the swish of the mannlicher, the sharp reports as they struck against the brick walls, and above it all the whistling, rushing, shrieking, hellish sound of passing and bursting shell. To this was added the whir of rapid fire guns, and the sharp reports of one, three and six pounders, our only artillery which were returning the fire. In less than half and hour, stores ammunition and equipment were loaded into rickshaws and started off under guard for Watson’s drug store, a one story building situated in the center of the city and surrounded on all sides by three, four and five story structures. With five others, I was detailed to bury Nichols. As we turned out past the Temperance Hall the English Guns crew stopped working their gun long enough to uncover as we passed, their captain saying, “We’ll throw some shrapnel, perhaps it will help you across.” In front of us was open ground, one thousand yards away a small churchyard, which we had chosen as a burial place. A mile away, the Chinese entrenchments and directly in front of the churchyard was an immense sink hole whose edge was marked by the white helmets of Royal marines, sharp shooting twenty-four hundred yards. But this plain. It seemed as if all the shots in China were being fired across it, the hissing of bullets, 1, 3, 6, 9 and 12 pounders; 4, 6 and 8 inch shells screaming through the air and crashing into buildings on our left and in front of us, bursting above us, plowing up the ground in front of us. It might have been easy to charge across that field, but to march across with stretchers was another matter. A big six inch shell came plowing into the dirt some 12 feet away. I ducked my head waiting for it to burst and send us “to hell aflying,” but up she came and went crashing into a brick building, blowing a hole in the side fifteen feet in diameter. One we went. Just as we turned toward the entrance, a three inch shell burst almost on top of us, but no one was hit. Just outside the churchyard, crouched two Chinese dressed in silk, and apparently of high station. They had evidently been trying to get out of the city, but the fire had proven too hot for them. Quickly our big Irish corporal had them by the pigtails, “Be jabbers, ye killed im, and be Christ ye’l bury im.” It was hot, but we worked fast. I will say this for Jack, that when we have finished Corporal Kavanaugh uncovering said: “I ain’t much of a praying man, but if anyone knows any try and say them, may God have mercy on his soul.” And he sank on his knees beside the grave of his dead comrade, five of us following his example. Could a soldier wish to die differently. Killed the first, in the front rank, buried in a hell of fire by comrades in arms, who feared neither man nor devil, and the prayers said for him that day were as well for the peace of his soul as if the priest himself had said them. We had done our best, and in extended order, we picked our way by the safest and quickest route to our new headquarters. Here we found men at work. Huge barricades made up of bales of pressed wool, taken from the big godowns were being hurriedly built—shoulder high in a semicircle form with openings in the center of gattling guns, --extra bales being placed near at hand, which in case of need could be used to close the openings. Now we had a part of the town fortified to fall back upon as a last stand, which we though must soon come, but Jack behind the barricade, which he knows nothing short of an eight inch shall will penetrate, is perhaps a braver man than in the open. Ye Gods! How we could have piled them if they had come up those streets. If the city had been taken, it would have been over thousands of dead Chinamen. If they had captured us, if our ammunition gave out, everyone knew his duty, use your six shooters on the women and children, saving the last shot for yourself. The history of the siege of Tientsin is not to be written as black as the most hopeful of our little garrison thought. All night long the shells screamed, the swish of the mannlicher, the bang of one and three pounders, and all around us the boom of heavy artillery, and the lurid bloody glare of many fires. To complete this hell, an air laden with smoke and the smell of stale powder. Down the long streets came the rumble of water carts, and curses of many tongues at the darkness and obstructions came from their drivers. Now out of the darkness came two staggering bearers, taking to the hospital or perhaps his last resting place a comrade. A sentry’s ears are sharp a night like this. As I crouched under a barricade, fronting on the Bund, I strained my eyes so that it almost seemed as if I could really penetrate the darkness, then wondered how soon one of those nasty sounding things which were striking the buildings about me like hail would choose in its course the spot I chose to rest my face against on the barricade. Now and then came the rattle of the breach mechanism of a one pounder, followed by a sharp report from the top of the customhouse, where some English bluejackets were stationed. Then out of the darkness came a step. “Halt! Who goes there?” “Friend.” “Advance friend and be recognised.” One’s rifle drops into his arm, but unconsciously he shifts it to the left and finds himself drawing a six shooter, for even a challenge answered in the anglo-saxon tongue in times like these leaves behind it that feat of oriental treachery, which every white man, who has been long in the East, has forced upon him. It proved to be Lieutenant Irwin, and with parting injunction to keep as much under cover as possible he left me.
It was now nearly midnight, and I was glad to hear the tramp of the corporal of the guard and my relief. Turning in meant to lie down on the stone flagging outside the drugstore, all standing. Wrap your blanket around your waist and in less than a minute you are fast asleep. Shells may screech and burst, but Jack sleeps on. It seems only a minute when reveille sounds clear and brazen at 5 A.M. and you have had nearly five hours sleep, which most of us were sadly in need of. Things looked a little more shattered this morning; crowds of Russian Cossacks watering their horses at the hydrant outside our barracks, their long boots filling the air with the rank smell of Russian leather. As stretcher bearers pass, the canvas is no longer white – dark with still darker spots, which mean war.
At 9 A.M. word came in for reinforcements for the Germans. We are rested, so out we go, getting in a little skirmish work and the enemy retreating. After luncheon some twenty of us went down to the Peiho. We found it very low with no protection on its banks other than from large squared timber. The Bund offered a clean sweep to the enemy’s fire. Directly opposite us were located some eight or ten small buildings which hid sharp shooters. Under score of our fire three of our men crossed the river in a small boat, and after setting fire to a small building retreated without suffering injuries. One of these men was Corporal Appleton, and another a machinist McAllister, and a third, whose name I do not recall. I understand, however, that they were all three awarded gold medals for brave and meritorious conduct in the face of the enemy. At 3 P.M. an English middy rode up our barracks on a wheel. Seeing us standing outside, he jumped from his machine exclaiming “Oh! Sir, the British want reinforcements out at the cotton mill.” Would we go? It took barely an instant for what men we had to fall in and with a Right forward, fours right, we were off at double time, the guns crew at Temperance Hall giving us a cheer as we went by. Nearly half a mile of open ground and plenty of shell fire lay ahead of us. On we went, more like original Americans than a race which had adopted that Country; now in ditches; again in a mad rush in the open, arriving at the mill at last, breathless and panting; and a grand cheer went up from that little British garrison as we came rushing through their gates with the bullets cracking against the wall behind us. A moment’s rest and out sharp shooters. Such a crowd of laughing and cheerful Britishers, one would hardly expect to meet under such circumstances. The Superintendant of the mill, who, by the way, was a Connecticut Yankee, we found, still occupying a portion of it as his residence. He spent some time with us applying blankets of his own manufacture, which were very acceptable for those cool evenings. Shortly after arriving, the Chinamen evidently got their range down somewhat finer for twelve pounders and four point sevens came crashing into the building wounding slightly two of the Guns crew, who were working a one pounder mounted on the bell tower of the building, but we did not mind it, and retired behind a boom-proof, made up of forty feet of pressed wool, taking turns banging away at them with a nine pounder, which the British had mounted on the mud wall behind the building. At eight P.M. the English relief came out, we retiring under cover of darkness, glad to get a chance for a bit of supper. Then came another long night of waiting and watching. Tuesday was over and Wednesday had come. Two sentrys were killed on posts during the night, while one French and one Russian officer were reported killed making their rounds. At day break the Chinese increased the bombardment. Where were the Russian troops from Port Arthur? Where were the Japanese? We must hear from Taku tomorrow. So all hung on like grim death. The Chinese had planted new guns during the night, and the Russians requested reinforcements to take them. Out went the Centurians, Sir David Beatty, R.N.V.C. in charge. The Orlandos, American Marines and Monocacies in reserve; away to the left the Russians; the Centurians on the right. There we lay and watched them. Cavalry might have done it, but those poor fellows went into the mouth of Hell that morning. All the Russian officers were down and two-thirds of their men. Finally Captain Beetey fell, and in less than three minutes only twenty of the sixty English that went out came back unharmed. It was no use, the Russians had forty dead from that night and morning’s work; the English seventeen killed. We were like rats in a hole and could not sacrifice any more men, then came the word to retire.
Here I met three girls in short skirts, canteens and revolvers strapped on. One was helping a wounded Russian. As we stood there, he leaned heavily on her. I offered to relieve her for a moment. She smiled and handed me a canteen full of brandy and water. “No Jack, you’re tired, and must fight, take some of that, you need it.” She was not a missionary by occupation, but an angel in a time like this.
When we came back to the barracks, we met messengers who reported the cotton mill as being burned during the night, and that the English had fallen back on the recreation ground, and feared an attack would be made from that side of the town. A dust storm was raging, and at times, one could barely see fifty yards. Everyone was a dirty gray color and our eyes red and watery from the alkaline dust. Away we went at a double, and as we neared the recreation grounds both shell and shrapnel flew thick. “Single file. Interval of five paces, then charge for the gate.” This was the order as we lay behind the last barricade getting our breath. I saw the man in front of me zigzag toward the left, a crash that staggered and threw me back, but on we went, reaching the gate panting, and now practically out of the zone of fire. I looked around me thinking that I was the only one left, but they were all there. Such were the chances of shell fire. No attack was made, and at 11:45 A.M. we started into dinner. Hardly had we reached the barracks when down the street came mounted messengers; English, Japs and Cossacks. The Chinese were advancing on the Germans with Cavalry and Artillery. Captain Bailet, R.N. wanted every available man. Away we went without dinner. As we passed Gordon Hall and the Astor House, what a cheer went up, it was an American cheer from the American women, without an order, as one man, officers and men broke into a double. Behind us came a whirlwind. We swung out and by us with a rush went some fifty Cossacks, their long sabers clattering, and the rank smell of Russian leather hung in the air behind them. A few minutes and we were at the mud wall, but the dust being so thick we could see nothing. Away from down the river came the sound of heavy guns; now, as the dust lifts, a crowd of Chinese Cavalry goes scurrying across the plain. Ammunition and men were low, which necessitated our acting on the defence. Little did any of us think that six miles away 150 American marines were in ambush, leaving their guns and dead behind them, and retreating on Tongku. The Germans and Japanese have now come up. The English marines and Americans are detailed to control the mud wall, as far as the recreation grounds, forming a line of defence on two sides of the City and some three miles long. It was almost dusk when orders were received to proceed to our barracks. The Chinese have us in sight and throw a few shrapnels, most of which fell short, and we got in tired and hungry at 7:30. I find that I am detailed for outpost duty at 10:00, so try to get a little sleep, but sleep came hard after these days of fatigue and strain so, locating two of my shipmates, we retired to the celler of the building and broke out a few bottles of old port, a portion of this celler being used as a wine store. There in a dusty corner we sat and as the good old liquor warmed us a bit, we talked of home, friends and sweethearts. Above us go shrieking those death dealing missiles, but our thoughts are far away and little do we mind them.
10:00 o’clock came soon enough, and, as the guard falls in, a lady comes up. We find she is going to her home just above my outpost. She falls in with us, and, as we march down the dark and dusty street, we find her to be none other than the English girl whom I meet coming from the field supporting a wounded Russian early in the morning. She tells me she has been working all day at the hospital, and is now going for rest.
The night is cool; one does not mind the big ones, but that nasty, whining, swishing sound of the mannlicher is trying to ones nerves. Now one strikes the wall within a few feet of you with a sharp crack that startles you, and instinctively you crouch a little lower. Then you say “Pashaw, I’ll get it sooner or later”, and walk bravely along the barricade until one strikes the wall and send a lot of brick and mortar flying in your face. I heard a gate click. “What might that mean, perhaps a celestial sympathizer creeping up to stick a knife in your back. Quickly I dropped my rifle and crept up the wall under the shadow. Six shooter in hand and eyes intent on the other side of the street? I even chuckled to myself as the soft footballs neared the open at the surprise in stork for Mr. Chink, keeping a dead bead on the edge of the light spot. Then out of the darkness comes a voice, “Oh! Jack.” “Halt! Who goes there.” “Its me Jack, don’t shoot.” “Advance me, and be recognized,” and I burst out laughing at the ridiculous part I had played. At the barricade I met our lady friend of the early evening, who, being unable to sleep, had come out just for a moment. “Here, drink this,” and I saw a white arm reach out from the dark wrap she wore. I fumbled in the darkness until I felt a glass and emptied it with a gulp. It did me good for I was shivering from the chilly night air. We leaned on the barricade and talked in low tones, and somehow, the mannlichers made me nervous as I saw the outline of her white arm resting against the barricade. I began to think what a nasty hole one of them would make, but she persisted in saying that she was not afraid and that she could go anywhere a man could. I persuaded her to sit down on a pile of loose bricks under cover of the barricade where we talked for nearly an hour. It was chilly so I finally induced her to return to the house where she could get at least some protection from the chill of the early morning. The time had flown and I soon had the satisfaction of halting my relief.
Thursday morning and no sign of reinforcements. The bombardment letting up but little and most of the day being spent in strengthening barricades. Friday morning rumors were about the Admiral Seymour, R.N. and Captain McCalla, U.S.N., were entrenched some thirteen miles north of Tientsin with three hundred fifty wounded; out of provisions; and nearly out of ammunition. We had sent mounted messenger to Taku both English and Cossack, but no word had been received. With not even time to bury our own dead, the vile stench from the dead Chinese about the city was getting dangerous. The river today was a floating morgue and showed the terrible fighting that was going on about us. Hungry, mangy looking curs now without even a Chinese home fed on the dead bodies of their former masters, and sneaked away with an angry snarl as you passed. Twenty-six of us went out to the recreation grounds to do picket duty with the English. All night long the mannlichers whined, and away to the north against the black sky we could see the gun flashes and a few moments afterward would come the boom of heavy guns.
Morning broke clear, and at six our relief came. The bombardment had increased and the dust storm was raging. About 4 P.M. came the sound of volley firing from down the river, then rapid fire guns; soon light artillery, and it was advancing. Nearer and nearer it came; one looked at the other and said, “We’ll die scrapping anyway.” No orders came, and almost before we knew it, out of the dust came Old Glory, and then the blue shirts and campaign hats of American marines. Russian, English, German and Americans had fought their way in, two thousand strong, and word was passed to be ready at 2 A.M. to join the relief of the relief of Peking, but the men were sore and tired, so all of Sunday was spent in resting and moving our quarters into the China merchants Godown. At 6 P.M. a naval brigade of some twelve hundred men, made up from the American, British, French, German, Russia and Japanese forces, was drawn up on the Bund.
Directions were given as to line of march, and the general plan of expedition. Six hundred Russians would join us after we had crossed the Peiho. We were directed to retire, orders being given for the brigade to form at midnight. We soon made our way back to the Godown, but there was little change for rest. Ammunition, and transportation facilities were lacking, and it was necessary for us to commandeer a large white mule for the service. Requisition was made on our small force for a mule packer, who was finally located, and succeeded in making something of a pack saddle. Although we were up at 2 A.M. that morning, most of us had been hard at work the entire day; no one slept. Smoking or walking in pairs about the brick compound, one would think it recreation rather than high tension nerves. Thus we rested waiting for Reveille. Reveille at 11 P.M. So ended the first of the siege of Tientsin.
On to the relief of the relief of Peking and how we found Admiral Seymour, R.N. and Captain Jellico (Sir John and Captain McCalla, U.S.N. with three hundred and fifty wounded entrenched in the Si-Poh arsenal. After supper Sunday evening, we gathered in groups, and though tired, we did little sleeping or resting. At 11 P.M. sharp and brazen rang out the bugles of the marines, sounding the reveille, and the fearful blackness of the night together with the Oriental surroundings added a bit of the weird to it all. A few lights in the compound gave a ghastly look to the faces of those that passed them on the way to the cook house for coffee. At 11:30 sharp, and quick, came the tramp of many feet, and simultaneously the marshall notes of assembly. Groups hurried across the paved compound; the thump of rifle butts as the men fell in seemed fearfully distinct, and lastly twenty tired blue jackets, with still some vim in them, swung in on the left of the line at a double, in battery. We all had our orders so that there was no delay. “Count fours, right forward, fours right, March,” and then we were off in the darkness to our rendezvous, on the Bund. The glimmer of a few battle lanterns, the tramp of many feet, and the glamour of many tongues, told us the others had obeyed orders. In some way we got into a sort of formation, and the order was given to march.
Forty paces from the start, we came up with a Pontoon bridge, made of sampans with two 12” planks, as a roadway. Field guns with a three feet trackage, and ammunition mules could not cross. Guns had to be dismantled, and carried in pieces, ammunition unpacked, horses and mules made to swim the river. The reassembling and packing on the further side of the river all added to our discomforts. Wet, mud to our waists, some of the men swimming with the mules, gave a seemingly just cause for the profanity which prevailed; and how they all got over with their equipment, God only knows. From the voices that came from the darkness ahead, we knew someone was moving, and from behind us, we occasionally heard the Anglo-Saxon tongue, which told us that the English bluejackets with their guns were there. Down into ditches, up embankments, over charred and still smoking ruins, we went, and now a curse from someone who had stumbled over a good, but stinking Chinaman, made things more ghastly. There was no conversation for each man’s powers were strained to the utmost, with a rifle, one hundred and fifty rounds of ammunition, six shooters and one day’s rations. On we went in grim silence for over an hour when we came up with a smooth road which led us to a gate in the mud wall; and out of the darkness loomed up several cannon and tall gray coated sentrys standing at present arms, which told us whose property they were. The Czar was ready to cover our tracks, and draw the attention at daylight. Just beyond we were joined by eight hundred of his men, with three automatic guns and eight ambulances, the latter being drawn by horses.
On we went, the eight hundred infantry ahead kicking what might be truly termed a hell of a dust. Now and then a Cossack scout would come galloping up on his ragged little pony, and hand a note to Captain Beety, R.N.V.C., who, with his arm still in a sling from a crushed shoulder, a memento of that fearful charge at the railroad station, had insisted on going with us. Every few moments a halt, and every man would drop in his tracks to touch his lips to the blessed canteen, for this fearful alkaline dust was raising the deuce with men who had been through the past week.
Where were we going? Did anyone know? We afterwards found out that they didn’t. Why would not morning come, or at least give us a fight for our trouble. What kind of fellows were these Chinks to let two thousand men go stamping through their country with thirty thousand of old Li’s best troops within two miles of us? This darkness was trying, but dawn was coming and on we went. Then a halt. There was just a faint glimmer of day when someone said, “The Americans are to go in position at the left, next to the English,” and now we could faintly see the outline of a line of battle forming. We were so used to it that we picked up our drag ropes in a mechanical sort of way and started off on a trot even giving a faint cheer, as we rushed for a bank, which would put us into position on high grounds, our big white ammunition mule bringing up the rear in good order. Away on the middle and right were the German marines, and Russians, and on the left, the English and Americans. Down through the center with a dash came some twenty mounted Cossacks. Out they went to draw the fire. Now we could just make out the outline of a huge fort some sixteen hundred yards ahead of us. No sound came and half an hour brought daylight, and an empty fortification. Yes, the Si-Pok arsenal was some nine miles up the river. We had already come out ten. We must take the back track for two miles and cross the river. Back we went to the iron railroad bridge, but only the timbers remained. A detachment of Russians crossed and just as they reached the other shore, came a heavy boom and four inch shell went screaming over us and burst in the air. In less than half an hour we had procured boats, rigged a rope ferry, and had men, guns, horses and ammunition on the opposite side of the river? This illustrates how men and can hustle under shell fire, and right glad were we all to take refuge behind the railroad embankment, and let them bang away. After an hour’s rest, we again took up the line of march, but had a death hole to go through at the start, and to see the one pounders cutting the top of the mud wall was not much of an incentive to go forward. The Germans were the only ones who appeared to have cold feet, but with fifty yards start and an American yell, we shoved the last of their company over the bank. The nasty one pounders and automatics added to our hurry. How we all came out, I don’t know, but only three out of two thousand were hit; one poor fellow having his foot blown off at the ankle. Everything went well for a time until the scouts reported some eight hundred Chinese on the other side of the Grand Canal, about one quarter of a mile ahead of us. Some eighty Russians went first and drew the Chinese on. Then, forward, double time. It was not a rattle but a roar as we dashed up the embankment and in battery. “Commence firing.” Rip-p-p-p-p-p- went the automatics and crash after crash with the Russian and Marines volley firing. In five minutes the Chinese were gone, that is, all that could go. We found Chicago beef, officers’ overcoats, cooking utensils, arms, and ammunition strewn in every direction. Now we pushed away at the left. Was it a ruse? Then on we went; someone with a glass reported a British man-of-war flag. No one gave an order, it all came at once. The American marines’ yell from the extreme left, struck the ear at the same time as the “ViVi- la franciss” on our right. It was a long pull and full of ditches. We heard firing on our right, but pushed forward. With one last cheer we made a final dash up the riverbank, and in battery, for the Chinese were hustling the Russians in the rear. Four of five turns of the crank did the work, and looking around, we saw an international crowd, and heard an international yell, as they pushed down to the opposite riverbank. A tall gray-headed man in the fatigue uniform of a U.S. Naval officer, stepped out of the crowd, and hailed us. “What bluejackets are those?” “Monocacy.” “Well done Monocacy.” The best and bravest officer in the service, Captain Bowman H. McCalla, whose first thought was always for his men. He immediately took steps to procure modern mannlicher rifles to replace the Hotchkiss guns which had been supplied from the Monocacy’s armory, and, using black powder ammunition. The Chinese attacked us later, but only one man that I know of was killed, and some seven or eight wounded. The Chinese down the river had evidently located is, and opened up with heavy guns. A German officer with his guns crew procured a four point seven gun from the arsenal and soon silenced them. By dusk, we had all the wounded transferred to our side of the river, and the buildings mined ready for touching off. At sundown, an execution was held of some Chinese spies, and one, who I understand was found carrying an English marine officer’s head in a bag over his shoulder, was put in the arsenal to watch several hundred pounds of gun cotton go off. Sentrys were posted, and the rest of the command turned in. It was cold; men curled up in heaps to keep themselves warm. I have a faint recollection of one of the ammunition donkeys running over me some time during the night, but it was as a dream. We broke camp at 2:30 A.M. for the long march with the wounded to Tientsin, where we arrived at 2 P.M.