Hell In China
By Col R. D. Heinl, Jr. – Originally Published November 1959
"My Dear Mother," wrote LT Smedley D. Butler, age just 20:
"Well, here we are about 200 miles from our destination and steaming 15 knots or about 17 miles an hour. We expect to arrive about noon tomorrow, but I doubt if we land until the next day. We were ordered away from Cavite in such a hurry that I did not have time to drop thee even a line so I asked Dunlap to send thee a note telling of our departure. To lead thee up to the situation as it now stands, I shall begin at the beginning. There has been a revolution in China, as nearly as we can make out, and all the European Powers have landed their Marines and bluejackets, and we are to represent the great American Republic. . . . It is needless to say that I am the happiest man alive and that for the last few days my feet have not touched the ground at all. . . ."
Lt Butler, far from his well ordered Quaker home in Pennsylvania, was on the Yellow Sea, aboard USS Solace, with 106 Marines ("a very fine body of men") including an impromptu overstrength of two, "that had sneaked aboard in the dark." The date was 17 June 1900.
Two weeks earlier, North China had exploded with a violence that shook the world. Now, although he could not yet know it, Lt Butler was poised on the brink of one of the most dramatic episodes in modern history, the Boxer Uprising and its instant sequel, the China Relief Expedition. Nothing before or since has ever managed to combine in one place and time, ingredients of the Perils of Pauline with the siege of Constantinople, seasoned by Rudyard Kipling, with the US Cavalry and the US Marines to the rescue.
In 1900, Queen Victoria had been on the throne 63 imperial years, and Kipling was exhorting Americans: act like sahibs-"Take up the White Man's Burden, Send forth the best ye breed. . . ." In 1900, William McKinley was campaigning against William Jennings Bryan on a platform of The Full Dinner Pail and Manifest Destiny; rambunctious Mr. Theodore Roosevelt, McKinley's running mate, was declaiming, "The guns of our warships have awakened us to the knowledge of new duties. Our flag is a proud flag, and it stands for liberty and civilization." The unofficial national anthem was still There'll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight, although soldiers and Marines in the Philippines were already chanting:
"Underneath the Starry Flag,
Civilize 'em with a Krag . . ." and Little Drown Brother as well, dedicated to the new governor-general and the Philippine insurrecto, which ran:
"He may be a brother of William H. Taft, But--He ain't no brother of mine. . . ."
Twenty thousand US troops -Army, Navy, and Marines- were perspiring in the Far East while the folks at home debated Secretary of State John Hay's new policy for China-the Open Door.
In North China, wrote a young diarist:
"The weather is becoming hot, even here in latitude 40 and in the month of May. The Peking dust, distinguished among all the dusts of the earth for its blackness, its disagreeable insistence in sticking to one's clothes, one's hair, one's very eyebrows, is rising in heavier clouds than ever. . . ."
That was Peking, capital city of China's Dowager Empress, Tzu Hsi, going on 40 years in power, reactionary, shrewd, now more than ever resentful of the Outer Barbarians and their Christian converts.
As 1900 dawned, China was already convulsed by one of her historic surges of antiforeignism. The Society of I Ho Tuan, flaunting scarlet banners dreadfully inscribed Pao Ch'ing Mien Yang-"Death and destruction to the foreigner and all his works, and loyal support to the great Ching Dynasty"-had spread on the dust-laden winds of North China. Under the protection of great men in the court of the old Empress, I Ho Tuan egged screaming mobs to kill every foreigner and assured them by sorcery of magic invulnerability to Western bullets.
"We are beginning to call them Boxers" - continued the diarist, "grudgingly and sometimes harking back and giving them their full name, 'Society of Harmonious Fists,' or the 'Righteous Harmony Fist Society'." And so it was that I Ho Tuan got the name by which the West still remembers it.
In open sympathy with the Boxers were the bloodthirsty soldiery of the Kansu Army. Led by a fierce commander, Tung Fu-Hsiang, these Mohammedans from Inner Mongolia had been brought to North China in 1899 to uphold the Dowager Empress. Now, they were camped menacingly about the Temple of Heaven outside Peking.
On 28 May 1900, a Boxer column sacked and burnt several railroad stations on the Belgian-owned line between Peking and Paotingfu. Next day, they descended on Fengtai, principal railroad junction below Peking, and destroyed the Imperial Railway shops there. All foreign railroad employes fled, mainly to Tientsin. In rather belated alarm, the Legations at length telegraphed for help, and the Asiatic Squadrons of the great powers raised steam and set course for North China.
At this very moment when-in Smedley Butler's later phrase-"Hell had broken loose in China," US forces were having a rather rough ride in the Philippines. Under the leadership of Emilio Aguinaldo, the Philipinos, freed of Spain, were in no mood to accept America, and were-in the words of Maj "Tony" Waller-fighting the US occupation forces with "everything that savage, treacherous minds could conceive."
Every soldier and Marine who could be spared from Cuba, Puerto Rico and the US, plus a sizable slice of the US Navy, was therefore in the Far East. The Navy was spread thin enough, having to maintain one squadron along the China coast and in Japan, while another was supporting Army and Marines from Luzon to Mindanao. Five battalions of Marines were in the Philippines, mostly on Luzon, except for some squad-sized oddments guarding lighthouses and backwater ex-Spanish bases as remote as the Sulu Sea.
Thus the resources which could be spared from the Philippines for China were mainly naval, and pretty grudgingly released by commanders who had troubles enough without looking for more.
Land the Landing Forces
The first US ship to reach Taku Bar, the Yellow Sea roadstead 40 miles down-river from Tientsin, was USS Newark, protected cruiser, which knifed through the Gulf of Pechili at her full 19 knots, and anchored on 27 May. Newark carried a double-strength complement of Marines. On 24 May, while all foreign ships lying at Nagasaki were helping the British celebrate Queen Victoria's 81st birthday, a signal flashed to the battleship Oregon to transfer 25 Marines and one officer to Newark for service ashore in China. 2dLt R. C. Berkeley, the junior Marine officer, was alerted for the expedition when a second signal arrived, detailing Capt John T. Myers by name. As Myers was at that moment aboard HMS Endymion in the midst of a rollicking guest night, he had-much to young Lt Berkeley's chagrin-to be extricated, sobered up, and sent away with his men on what was to prove one of the epics of the Marine Corps. Now, at Taku, Myers, senior to Newark's captain of Marines, Newt E. Hall, was readying the combined detachments for landing across Taku Bar.
From Newark's quarterdeck, the shore was barely in sight. Except for a French cruiser and gunboat, and three Chinese men-of-war, the dreary anchorage was empty. "A more desolate anchorage than off Taku," wrote one of Newark's junior officers, "cannot be imagined. The wide expanse of greenish-yellow water is depressing."
Following Newark to Taku were the gunboat Nashville,, and the ancient double-ender gunboat Monocacy, a tortoise-shaped veteran of 1863 armed with 9-inch muzzle-loading smooth-bores. Relic though she was, however, Monocacy's Mississippi paddle wheels and shallow draft made her the only foreign man-of-war able to cross Taku Bar and take station upstream at Tong-Ku, Tientsin's railhead on the Pei-Ho River.
When US Minister E. H. Conger finally telegraphed from Peking for help, probably the least surprised man in the US Navy was Capt Bowman H. McCalla, commanding Newark. Renowned sundowner and veteran of many past landing operations, including Panama and Guantanamo Bay, McCall was the Kelly Turner of his day, a past master at projecting US naval power onto the beach. In 1899, after receiving orders to take his ship to the Far East, he had spent a fortnight in landing force drills with sweating sailors blazing away on the rifle range at Mare Island. A man half walrus, half bear, and all fighter.
At four in the morning, 29 May, McCalla sent off Marines- (48 men from Newark and Oregon, under "Jack" Myers and Newt Hall) -a 3-inch landing gun with bluejacket crew, a trusty Colt machine-gun, and Assistant Surgeon T. M. Lippitt, USN, Newark's junior medico. Following three hours later, as soon as the sailor-men could wrestle themselves into white leggings and heavy marching order, were four naval officers, 60 seamen, and another Colt machine gun. The first US contingent to go ashore in the China Relief Campaign was briefed to expect "four or five days" on the beach.
Having joined forces at Tong-Ku, inside the river bar, McCalla's expedition set out for Tientsin. This wasn't as easy as might seem, since the Chinese railroad authorities refused to haul foreign troops. Finally McCalla commandeered a tug and several river junks. In these filthy hulks the landing force stacked its gear and munched corned beef while the tug breasted the Pei-Ho. At 2300 the flotilla made Tientsin, where the whole foreign colony had been waiting up for them with a brass band. Among the welcomers was a 25-year-old American mining engineer, Mr. Herbert Hoover, who later reminisced, "1 do not remember a more satisfying musical performance than the bugles of the American Marines entering the settlement playing There'll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight." The first foreign troops to arrive, they were billeted in Temperance Hall, ordinarily dedicated to an arid cause whose futility has never been more underscored than on the China station.
From Tientsin, it seemed obvious to Capt McCalla and US Consul Ragsdale that troops must push on without delay to Peking, and, while the Chinese railroad authorities stalled and red-girdled Boxers devastated the country between Tientsin and Peking, landing forces from British, Austrian, German, French, Italian, Japanese and Russian menof-war followed the Americans to Tientsin.
On 31 May, international pressure was too much for the Chinese: after the British threatened to hang the Stationmaster, a special train was arranged. On this rattling fire-carriage entrained Capt Myers, Capt Hall, Surgeon Lippitt, the 48 enlisted Marines, five bluejackets, and the better of the two Colt guns with 8,000 rounds, plus 400 rounds per man. In addition to the US Marines, the Peking train carried 79 red-coated, pipe-clayed British Marines, 75 French sailors (Compagnies de Debarquement), 75 Russian sailors, 50 German Marines, 30 Austrian Marines, 40 Italian sailors and 29 Japanese Special Naval Landing Force-a redoubtable breed whose prowess US Marines would re-learn years later from Tarawa to Iwo Jima.
Aside from individual weapons and the US Marines' Colt machine gun, this mixed trainload included an Italian one-pounder, an Austrian Mannlicher machine gun, and a Nordenfelt gun belonging to the British (". . . an old-fashioned, clumsy machine gun which jams at every four shots," subsequently chronicled a frustrated observer in Peking).
All told, the troops bound for Peking numbered 21 officers and 431 enlisted men-for comparison, a force about the same size as that which defended Wake in 1941. As they debarked that evening at Peking's "fire-cart stopping place," they were met not only by relieved representatives of the legations, but by thousands of silent natives from the adjacent Chinese city. "The dense mass of Chinese which thronged either side of the roadway," reported Capt Myers from Peking, "seemed more ominous than a demonstration of hostility would have been."
The Seymour Expedition
By 10 June 1900, it was clear that the legations in Peking would need much more help. Boxers had severed the railroad between Tong-Ku and Tientsin; on 5 June, the last train had inched through from Peking, and rail traffic quit. Peking was cut off.
Meanwhile, Capt McCalla's bluejacket contingent at Tientsin had been reinforced by 50 more sailors and a couple of squads of Marines under a first sergeant. The whole eight-nation force in Tientsin now totalled some 2,500 officers and men. Senior officer present, and thus de facto commander, was VAdm Seymour, RN.
On 9 June, after a long-winded international council of war, walrusmoustached old Bowman McCall faced the assembled senior officers and consuls at Tientsin, and announced, "I don't care what the rest of you do. I have 112 men here, and I'm going tomorrow morning to the rescue of my flesh and blood in Peking. I'll be damned if I sit here 90 miles away, and just wait."
That did it. Next day, leaving a detachment behind to protect the women and children in Tientsin, Seymour, with McCalla second in command, set out for Peking, repairing and garrisoning the railroad as he plodded forward. The most essential man in the column soon proved to be a US Navy coal-passer who had once worked as a railroad section-hand. He was the only man out of 2,100 who could set out a fish-plate and spike down a rail.
Within a week, the column was at Lang Fang, only 25 miles from the besieged capital, but was in as much trouble as any foreign troops in China. Harried fiercely by Boxers and by Imperial Chinese soldiers who, for reasons soon to be made clear, had suddenly joined the uprising, the would-be rescuers now had the choice of retreat or annihilation.
From 18 to 22 June, Seymour and McCalla (the latter aboard a commandeered white mule) slogged back toward Tientsin through the North China dust, while the red-scarved Boxers slashed at them from behind every village wall and burial mound. Finally, with 300 wounded, the force could neither retreat nor advance. In a last desperate effort, the Royal Marines, supported by the Germans and Americans, kicked in the defenses of the strongly-fortified HsiKu Arsenal, six miles north of Tsientsin. Here, safe for the moment, they holed up with ample food, modern weapons, and sore-needed medical supplies, inadvertently supplied by the Imperial Chinese government. Of McCalla's 112, 31 were killed or wounded, including McCalla himself, thrice wounded.
Beleaguered in the arsenal, with Tientsin's foreign concessions under attack from the native city, the Seymour column could not know that, early on 17 June, the Chinese forts at Taku Bar had opened fire on the foreign men-of-war, and had in return been stormed and captured hours later. The Chinese government was now in the war.
"Brave Hearts and Bright Weapons"
With three sieges going on at once, as the Chinese burnt, looted and murdered, the Boxer cause appeared to be prospering.
In the face of this three-alarm emergency, the first US troops ready to go to China from the Philippines were a tiny provisional battalion under Maj Littleton W. T. ("Tony") Waller, which had been mounting gloomily out from Cavite for Guam. As young Lt Butler recounted:
"Major Waller came ashore at 4:45 p.m. and told me that Company A was the one chosen for the expedition and that I was to go in command of it. He also told me that I was to get the company ready by 8:45 that same night. For a while I seemed dazed and then it dawned on me and we all began preparations. Peter Wynn and myself first went out to the quarters and set all the men wild by the news and in my short but eventful life I have never seen such a howling mob. We then went back and packed ourselves and at 8:15 p.m., I started for the quarters to bring the company down to the boat. That was pretty quick work when you consider that I took out a half hour for dinner."
Following this whirlwind embarkation, the ship sailed for Taku on 14 June 1900. Hours later, Minister Conger reported to the Department of State that the foreigners in Peking ". . . have been completely besieged within our compounds with the entire city in the possession of a rioting, murdering mob, with no visible effort being made by the Government in any way to restrain it. . . . In no intelligent sense can there be said to be in existence any Chinese government whatsoever."
Five days later, at 0330, the Marines debarked in lighters, reinforced by 30 more Marines from Nashville, armed with a cranky 3-inch landing gun and a Colt machine gun.
With the rough-and-ready help of Navy machinist's mates and water-tenders from the vintage Monocacy, now the Allied station ship at TongKu, Waller coaxed a wheezy Chinese train back to life, loaded it with spare ties, rails, and Marines, and chuffed from Tong-Ku toward Tientsin. Repairing track as they advanced, the Marines joined forces on the afternoon of 19 June with a battalian of 440 Russian infantry halted about 12 miles short of Tientsin.
At 0200 on 20 June, within ear-shot of the Chinese guns shelling Tientsin, the Marines and the white-bloused, booted Russians resumed the advance. By seven they were in the outskirts of Tientsin, under heavy fire and counterattack by more than 1,500 Boxers and Chinese Imperial troops. This was more than the Russians-or the Marines, for that matter-could stand, and, with the indomitable Waller covering the retirement, the forces disengaged.
The retreat was signalized by the rescue of a wounded Marine, inadvertently left behind, by a rear guard consisting of IstLts Smedley D. Butler and A. E. Harding and four enlisted Marines. Under continual Chinese pursuit and fire, by cavalry and artillery, the six Marines carried the wounded man seven miles without a stretcher-and got away with it. All four enlisted rescuers (two of whom were themselves wounded) got Medals of Honor. Since officers were not eligible to receive the Medal of Honor in those days, Butler and Harding were both brevetted captain for gallantry.
By nightfall, having hiked 30 miles, fought all day on nothing but a little hardtack, and sustained 13 casualties, Waller's battalion was back where it started, on the rail-road 12 miles from Tientsin. Here, within two days, there accumulated some 2,000 British, Russians, Germans, Italians, and Japanese. Waller now made common cause with the 600-man British naval contingent headed by Cdr Christoper Cradock, RN, who was destined, as a rear admiral, to go down bravely in 1914 with his outnumbered squadron at Coronel. On the 23d, after reveille at 0330, the column moved out, and, in Lt Butler's words, "after a terrible march in the face of a sand storm, and very severe fighting, we entered (Tientsin) about 1:30 p.m. . . . I forgot to say that while crossing a bridge the Chinese exploded a mine under us, but outside of being plastered with mud and stones, none of us were hurt. Am well except toothache and sore feet."
The Marines led the way up Tientsin's Victoria Road with Colors broken out and flying, while grateful Europeans, saved for the second time, plied the troops with beer.
After the rescue of Tientsin's foreign concessions, two jobs demanded immediate action: 1.) relief of Adm Seymour's column still holding out in Hsi-Ku Arsenal (known to later generations of China Marines as the French Arsenal); and 2) reduction of the fast-growing Boxer stronghold within Tientsin's walled Chinese city. Here the western-trained Chinese had mounted modern Krupp cannon on the walls, and maintained a steady fire on the foreign concessions a mile or so distant. Even so, reported US Consul Ragsdale, there was clandestine communication between the besieged foreigners and the Chinese city. "I had constant information," he related, "from an intelligent Chinese, who, by the way, is a graduate of Yale College."
On 25 June, after moving out before dawn, the relieving force reached Hsi-Ku Arsenal, raised the siege, ". . . said goodbye to the Boxers by setting fire to the Arsenal" (related Butler), and "marched back to Tientsin, loaded down with souvenirs." In addition, however, they brought in more than 300 of Seymour's sick and wounded, including doughty old McCalla, who for once was glad to turn over command to the senior Marine, Maj Waller. Waller thereby became US commander-in-chief ashore in North China.
But more Marines were on the way. Under be-moustached old Col Robert L. Meade, the remainder of the 1st Regiment at Cavite, P. I., had embarked in the armored cruiser Brooklyn, and were at Taku on 10 July. Meade brought one more infantry battalion, regimental head-quarters, and an "artillery company" (three 3-inch landing guns, the same as Huntington had used at Guantanamo Bay, and three Colt machine guns)-some 318 Marines in all.
Meanwhile, Waller's Marines at Tientsin had been in another fight. As a preliminary to showdown with the Boxer hordes in Chinese City, the Tientsin Arsenal (not to be confused with Hsi-Ku Arsenal), held by 7000 Boxers, had been captured. Cradock and the Russians determined to do the job and asked for Waller's help. This was given with alacrity, and, on 27 June 1900, British and US Marines (the latter led by IstLt A. E. Harding and 2dLt Wade L. Jolly) charged over the parapets, and Tientsin Arsenal was taken.
At the moment, taking a much needed breather while the now thoroughly alarmed powers built up their forces for the campaign ahead, Waller reported on his operations to date:
"Our men have marched 97 miles in five days, fighting all the way. They have lived on about one meal a day for six days, but have been cheerful and willing always. They have gained the highest praise from all present, and have earned my love and confidence. They are like Falstaff's army in appearance, but with brave hearts and bright weapons. . . . They have made history, marked with blood, if you please, still glorious and brilliant. They were the first in the field, and, please God, they will remain until the last man, woman, and child is relieved from the toils of these barbarians."
Forwarding Waller's report, RAdm Kempff who commanded the China squadron, added a resounding plaudit: "I would suggest a suitable medal for Maj Waller and five per cent additional pay for life in various grades he may reach. . . . It is with our Marines under Maj Waller as with the force under Capt McCalla-foreign officers have only the highest praise for their fighting qualities."
"And Saint David . . ."
The outer world's excitement over the plight of besieged Peking and Tientsin was by now immense, and, while the Marines and sailors on the spot were doing their best, reinforcements streamed toward Taku.
The first substantial American force to augment the Marines was the 9th Infantry, which reached China on 6 July. The 9th was immediately sent up to Tientsin by the railroad which was now being operated by the doughty bluejackets of the Monocacy, under their skipper, Cdr F. M. Wise, Cdr Wise, a salty, poly-lingual old-timer, was the father of 2dLt Wise in the 1st Regiment, and had been selected as Allied Commandant at Tong-Ku.
Four (lays later, Col Meade's contingent of the 1st Marines followed up. This gave the United States a brigade at Tientsin-1st Marines (including Waller's battalion), 9th Infantry (1st and 2nd Battalions only), all commanded by Col Meade, who relieved Waller as senior US officer present. This American force (which totaled about a thousand officers and men) was in turn brigaded with the 2,200-man British column made up of Sikhs; Bengal Lancers; 2d Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers; and Royal Navy and Marines. All told, the foreign powers now mustered 5,650 troops before Tientsin, of whom more than half were British and American, the remainder being French. German, Japanese and Russian.
In council-of-war the respective commanders agreed that the next step was to clean out Tientsin's native city, with its 50,000 defiant Boxers, and this would be done on 13 July.
The native city was ringed by two walls-a 30-foot outer mud wall, relic of the Taiping Rebellion in the 1860's, and, about a mile inside, the stone city wall proper, 24 feet thick and likewise 30 feet high. On the latter, the Chinese had mounted their numerous cannon, with which they continued to shell the foreign devils. Allied counterbattery fire came mainly from five historic British 12-pounder naval guns (from HMS Terrible) which, earlier in 1900, had been hammered together with boiler-plate mounts and hauled across South Africa for the defense of Ladysmith.
At 0300, 13 July, as agreed, under overall command of British BGen A. R. F. Dorward, DSO, the American, British and Japanese forces commenced their attacks on the south face of the native city. The Marines had the extreme left flank; on their right were the Royal Welch Fusiliers, commanded by Maj F. Morris; still further on the right, the 9th Infantry (in support of the British Naval Brigade). At Maj Waller's request, young Mr. Hoover accompanied the Marines "as a sort of guide in their part of the attack on the Chinese City." The heat was suffocating (temperatures of 140 degrees fahrenheit were to be recorded within the next fortnight), and the terrain between the two walls consisted of an inhospitable combination of rice paddies, huge salt mounds, Chinese graves, and muck from diverted sewage canals. "The sky was turning slightly gray," reminisced 2dLt Frederic M. Wise of the 1st (Waller's) Battalion, ". . . Chinese snipers across the river began to fire as fast as they could pull the trigger. Now they were shooting into our backs. We marched on, pouring out on that plain. Snipers on our side of the river, behind those salt mounds, took up the chorus. Artillery began to blaze from the walls. . . ."
"We charged over the mud wall at seven in the morning," related Smedley Butler, who was now the only lieutenant in command of a company, "and began our advance. The whole country was flooded. The Chinese had diverted the water from the canals into the open space between the two walls. We struggled through this filthy swamp, with bullets splashing and whining around us. The low mud walls of the rice paddies provided some slight protection. We crouched behind them, firing furiously, slipping, sliding and stumbling from one to another."
Butler's company, as well as some of the Welch, made it to the stone wall. There they were stopped cold, and Butler was wounded in the thigh-"as pretty a hole as you ever saw." Sustained by brandy from a British officer's canteen and aided by IstLt Henry Leonard (who lost an arm shortly after), he made it back to the field hospital.
While the rifle companies of the 1st Regiment and Royal Welch Fusiliers were thrashing about through the mud and debris, the artillery company, under Capt B. H. Fuller, went into position behind the mud wall. Here the 3-inch Navy landing guns opened fire at the native city wall and into the city itself. This fire soon drew attention from the numerous 4.7-inch Krupp guns of the Chinese, whose counterbattery was so effective that the Marine battery had to shift position. After firing all its ammunition, the batteryin a tradition which would distinguish Marine artillery on many another battlefield, including Wake and Saipan-reformed as infantry to reinforce the right flank of the 9th Infantry, which was in considerable trouble. For the rest of the day Fuller screened the 9th, and, that evening, covered their withdrawal, an action which the Army's report generously mentioned as follows: "Our final withdrawal was handsomely covered by the British naval troops and United States Marines sent to our aid by General Dorward. These gallant men also aided us in the removal of our wounded."
By eight that night, after a day of inconclusive action under intense though mercifully inaccurate Chinese fire, all hands were pulled back behind the outer mud wall, and the operation was no farther ahead than it had been at dawn. Out of the 451 Marines engaged, 21 had become casualties, including four officers (Capt A, R. Davis, killed; Capt W. B. Lemly and 1stLts Henry Leonard and S. D. Butler, wounded). The 9th Infantry, which never got beyond the mud wall, suffered considerably heavier casualties (17 killed, 71 wounded). Worse still, their gallant regimental commander, Col E. H. Liscum, USA, a veteran of the Civil War, was shot down while personally safeguarding his regimental color. His last words were, "Keep up the fire!"
Before dawn the next day, however, the Japanese had broken the stalemate. In a skillfully conducted night attack, they gained the south gate of the Chinese city, blew it in, and swarmed through. By daybreak, the whole allied force was inside, sweeping the Boxers before them. The native city was afire, and looting was already rampant.
"Soldiers of all nations joined the orgy," wrote 2d Lt Wise. "Men of the allies staggered through the streets, arms and backs piled high with silks and furs, and brocades, with gold and silver and jewels." As the ashes of Tientsin cooled, the Marines guarded the Yamen of the Salt Commissioner, where vast stores ($800,000 worth) of half-melted silver bullion still clotted the wreck-age. In reporting this trove to Washington, the Asiatic station commander, Adm Remey, stated, a little gratuitously, "My obtainable information clears Marines of any imputation of burning houses or looting Tientsin."
A by-product of the fighting on the 13th was the fine friendship which sprang up between the 1st Marines and the Royal Welch Fusiliers (a regiment which, as the 23d Foot, had fought at Bunker Hill).
Ever since the Boxer uprising, it has been the annual custom of the two corps that, on St. David's Day (1 March), the national holiday of Wales, the Commandant of the Marine Corps and the Colonel of the Royal Welch exchange the traditional password of Wales-". . . And Saint David!"
The Defense of the Legations
While turmoil raged from Taku to Tientsin, Peking, in the eye of the storm, though completely isolated, remained ominously calm. On 20 June 1900, however, in answer to the Allied bombardment and landings at Taku, the Chinese government abandoned its pro forma neutrality, and demanded that the foreign legations leave Peking within 24 hours. This was patently impossible in the circumstances, and was rightly construed as an invitation to be slaughtered. On his way to the Chinese foreign office to protest, the German Minister, von Ketteler, was shot down in cold blood by a Boxer.
That afternoon at four, precisely 24 hours after delivery of the Chinese ultimatum, troops of the Kansu Army fired on the Austrian and French lines. The French replied with a volley.
The siege of the legations had commenced.
All foreigners-including some 300 women and children-were concentrated in the compounds of the British, Russian, US, German, Japanese and French legations. This area, in the heart of the Legation Quarter, was bounded on the south and dominated by the immense Tartar Wall, 60 feet high and 40 feet wide, which divides Peking's Tartar City from the Chinese City. The US Legation compound lies in the shelter of the Wall, as did the German compound, just east. Thus the key to the American sector was the Tartar Wall, which for the next eight weeks, was in the hands of Capt Myers and the US Marines. "Capt Myers' post on the wall," the British Minister, Sir Claude MacDonald, would soon write, "is the peg which holds the whole thing together."
The immediate efforts of the besieged foreigners were to erect bulletproof, and later shellproof, barricades, and to take in all available provisions. The latter, fortunately, posed no problem in most respects and, in the Peking Hotel's ample cellars, even included more than a thousand cases of Dry Monopole champagne and vast stores of the finest anchovy paste. Such bonanzas, however, fell somewhat short of making up for the Russian sailors' forgetfulness in leaving their field gun behind on the station platform in Tientsin, while carefully bringing up to Peking a thousand rounds of its ammunition.
This military Never-Never Land was commanded, when commanded at all, by councils of war mainly presided over by Sir Claude MacDonald, and national jealousies and frictions were in some cases whetted rather than assuaged by the pressures of peril.
As if turn-of-century international rivalry weren't enough, the Legation Quarter was a ferment of civilian-military cross-currents, intensified by the usual suspicions among the numerous missionaries representing a pantheon of denominations, as opposed to the worldly men of the legations and their guards. This personal turbulence, brought to a boil by privation and tension, made for continued meddling and intrusion in the conduct of the defense.
Against this backdrop, the military characters at the center of the stage included:
Capt John Twiggs Myers, USMC
-Commanding the US Marines, tall, handsome, dashing, urbane and diplomatic, with a perky go-to-hell moustache.
Capt Newt H. Hall, USMC
-That anomaly, a quiet Texan, second in command of the US Marines, destined shortly to become the unwilling center of a controversy which would dog him to his grave.
Capt L. Halliday, Royal Marine Liglit Infantry
-Commanding the Royal Marine detachment, an intrepid leader soon to be desperately wounded, to win the coveted Victoria Cross, and ultimately to command his corps as Adjutant-General Royal Marines.
Baron von Rahden, Russian Navy
-Ace rifleman and sniper whose sport was to stalk unwary Boxers each day as dawn broke.
LtCol Shiba, Japanese Army
-"The plucky little Japanese colonel," admired by all.
The first sortie of ihe Allies was on 23 June, to clear out the burning Hanlin Yuan (". . . at once the Oxford and Cambridge, the Heidelberg and Sorbonne of the 18 provinces of China rolled into one"), which the Boxers had set afire in an attempt to burn out the neighboring British Legation. As this noble academy perished, taking with it half the recorded culture of China, British and US Marines had to assault through the flames to keep the Boxers from interrupting the foreign bucket brigades (". . . ladies of the Legations handing pots de chambre full of water to the next person in the long chain. . . .").
Next evening, the Boxers probed again with fire. Outbuildings south of the British legation were touched off, and stacks of brands were rolled to one gate of the British compound. In the counterattack which had to follow, the Royal Marines lost Capt Halliday, shot through shoulder and lung, but still Marine enough to drop three Chinese with his revolver, to cover his detachment's withdrawal, and then stagger under his own power to the hospital.
Taking advantage of the excitement elsewhere, Capt Myers, who had by now gotten up a shaky barricade across the top of the Tartar Wall, facing west toward Chien Men gate, led a party forward along the wall. Before very long, however, he hit resistance in force (one foreign observer estimated 2,000 Chinese in depth behind at least six successive barricades, with "several big guns.") This showed the power stacked up against the frail US position-"29 men against the Chinese Army," Myers subsequently reported in a scrawled chit to Minister MacDonald. Needless to say, the: Marines made no ground that night. But, what was more important, they gave none either.
More characteristic of the siege than such sorties and charges was an episode reported by an English official on 25 June:
"Men were wanted to drive back, or at least intimidate, a whole nest of Chinese riflemen, who had tiously established themselves in big block of Chinese houses so placed that enfilading fire can reach a number of points hidden from the Japanese lines. The Chinese riflemen were becoming more and more daring, and half a dozen of the best American shots were requisitioned.
"The six men who came over went deliberately to work in a very characteristic way. They split up into pairs, and each pair got, by some means, binoculars-one man armed with binoculars, the other with the American naval rifle - the Lee straight-pull which fires the thinnest pin of a cartridge I have seen and has but a two-pound trigger-pull. The Marines armed with binoculars were not elated by any one shot. Sometimes it took an hour or even two, to bring down a single man; but no matter how long the time necessary might be, the Ameriams stayed patiently with their man until the sniper's life's blood was drilled out of him by these thin pencils of Lee bullets."
The position selected by Capt Myers on the Tartar Wall-"the Wall" simply, to the defenders-faced west toward Chien Men (Men means "gate" in Chinese). To the immediate left (south) front, the wall opened into a huge bastion, 40 yards across, overgrown with grass and brush from years of neglect. A ramp, inside the US defense, led up to Myers' barricade. Exactly opposite, with a corresponding ramp, a Chinese barricade faced the Marines' position. Five hundred yards in Myers's rear, facing toward Hata Men, the other gate, to the east, the German Marines had a barricade, manned by about 15 men. On both Hata Men and Chien Men, the Chinese had observation and cannon which shelled the German and American defense. Altogether, a tight spot, but, as Capt Myers reported to Minister Conger-"We will hold on until I give out. . . ."
On 27 June, in broad daylight, a Boxer storming party hit the US rampart. The Colt machine gun (nicknamed "the potato-digger") clattered away, the Lee rifles cracked, and the Chinese fell back, leaving more than hall their number to augment the accumulation of "human and equine carrion" about the lines. "So long as the Americans hold the Wall," noted one of the diarists, "I think our Legations will be in no very serious danger."
The next night, although Myers's barricade was again probed, it was the Germans' turn to receive the Chinese main effort. At dawn on 1 July, the Germans discovered that the Chinese had placed three field guns in embrasures on the barricade immediately facing them. Shortly after, under heavy shell fire, the German detachment, which had only a corporal in command, took hasty flight. What was worse, they signalled to the Marines in their rear, lacing the other way, that they had been overrun. Uy prearrangement, the Americans retired, abandoning the Wall for a lower barricade covering the ramp.
Jack Myers was not the man to submit, however, and, after obtaining some reinforcements from the British Marines, counterattacked. The rush succeeded, and with three casualties, the US position was retaken. The Germans, however, were less successful, and had to be content with an intermediate holding position instead of the one they had given up. Meanwhile, the Marines grimly built a new barricade of their own across the Wall to their rear.
By now, Myers was completely bushed. He had taken to himself the responsibility of commanding the Wall barricades, leaving Hall the less arduous posts guarding the American Compound below. For more than five days he had literally gone without sleep. After reoccupying the Wall, he was given a direct order by Sir Claude MacDonald to turn over his post to Hall, and go below for sleep. This he did, and Capt Hall thereupon assumed command of the upper barricade, with a curious written order from Minister Conger. In writing, the US Minister threatened to prefer charges against Hall, ". . . if you leave until you are absolutely driven out." A strange document, and one which would soon become part of an equally strange dossier which was being collected against Capt Hall.
Just 24 hours later, at dusk on 2 July, Capt Myers returned to his barricades and resumed command. In his absence, the Chinese had been permitted to score an ominous gain -by advancing their wall 40 yards across the open front of the NoMan's bastion which flanked both Chinese and American barricades, they were now within a few feet of the left (south) end of the US position, and had just erected a 15-foot tower overlooking it.
Here was a turning point. If foreign troops expected to retain control of the Tartar Wall, the Chinese would have to be ejected. At 0130, in a heavy rainstorm, Capt Myers collected 30 of his own people, 26 British Marines, and 15 Russians. At the simple command "Go!", the force jumped off, Myers leading the Anglo-American main effort against the bastion and tower, the Russians making a secondary attack on the right.
"The noise made by us aroused the Chinese," reported a British participant, "and almost at once a hot fusillade started from the big barricade in front of us."
But luck was with the Marines. The Chinese had failed to man their new tower, and by following the Chinese barricade across the bastion, Myers was able to lead his party into the rear of the main Boxer position, where Chinamen were still blazing away into the darkness to their front. Though Myers was wounded by a Chinese spear, the attack succeeded completely.
Within a half hour, the Boxer barricade, reversed, was the new front line. Thirty-six Chinese lay dead, and two flags were taken. Allied casualties: two US Marines killed, one (Myers) wounded; one British Marine and one Russian, wounded.
Small as this little action may have seemed, it proved indeed to be a turning point.
"The bravest and most successful event of the whole siege was an attack led by Capt Myers," reported Minister Conger.
"This has been the only effectual offensive measure accomplished during the siege," wrote one diarist;" . . . it eventually proved to be one of the most important factors in the successful conduct of the siege and turned our precarious foothold on the wall into a sound defensible position," noted another; "The pivot of our destiny," said still a third.
"Perhaps the most critical situation during the siege," stated LtGen Halliday in retrospect. Other Royal Marines thought so, too, and the bronze bas-relief commemorating the British Marines' role in the defense depicts this combined assault, with the figure of Myers conspicuously to the front-a very pretty tribute.
His victory very nearly finished Myers, however, for his wound infected badly, and, worse still (like Surgeon Lippitt, also wounded in the leg, on 29 June), he came down with typhoid. This left the US Marines under the command of Capt Hall.
And here we are confronted by one of the unsolved mysteries in the history of the Marine Corps. Was Capt Newt H. Hall guilty of cowardice at Peking, or, as some delicately put it, "overcaution?"
Civilians in Peking pointed out after the siege, that Hall had served below during the first crucial week while Myers wore himself out on the Wall; that the Chinese had been permitted to advance their barricade across the bastion in a single day while Hall relieved Myers; that Minister Conger had admonished Hall against leaving the wall until (these were the very words) ". . . absolutely driven out." Typical of the talk against Hall within the besieged legations (where Myers was liked and admired, and Hall was not), was this diary entry:
"10 July-Today on the Wall there were 13 men under Captain Hall. He is never (sic) put on the Wall, his men having no confidence in his judgment. He has no control over his men. . . ."
Still other charges circulated that he had hesitated to lead his men forward over the barricade on the final day when the relieving column was in sight.
Ugly talk it was. And when the relief did take place, this talk came quickly to the ears of MajGen Adna R. Chaffee, USA, commanding all US forces in China. Chaffee immediately detailed his inspector-general, Capt (later major general) Crozier, a hero of the relieving assault, to look into this. Crozier's investigation, completed within 12 days after the relief of Peking, accumulated a smog of nasty statements-virtually all by civilians, be it noted-but recommended positively against further action. Myers, incidentally, was still too ill and debilitated to testify, and his subsequent report, although detailed and circumstantial, makes little mention of Hall. Chaffee approved Crozier's view, but sent the whole bundle of trouble back to BGen Commandant Charles Heywood.
Heywood, winner of two Civil War brevets for "distinguished gallantry in the presence of the enemy," was one of the bravest men ever to wear the globe and anchor. His immediate comment was that Hall (his own nephew by marriage) should have been court-martialed on the spot, if only for his own protection, and Hall himself was already seeking redress. First he asked for a court-martial. This request Gen Chaffee refused. Then Hall asked the (Navy) Commander-in-Chief, Asiatic Station, to convene a court of inquiry on his conduct. This time the answer was yes.
Meanwhile, Capt McCalla, Hall's commanding officer aboard the Newark, neither fool nor sissy, flatly recommended Hall for a brevet and to be advanced ten numbers in grade for his conduct at Peking. But at almost the same time, the Century Magazine published a damning, widely read, attack on Hall by W. N. Pathick, an American civilian who was at Peking.
On 1 March 1901, the Hall court of inquiry convened at Cavite Navy Yard. After a searching investigation, which disclosed "great caution" on his part, the court cleared the unhappy captain, but in terms of which no officer could be very proud-"for the reasons that he has already suffered sufficiently for the world-wide publication and criticism of his conduct in Peking."
Then, as if to compound the enigma, the Secretary of the Navy approved brevets to major for both Myers and Hall (but advanced Myers four numbers in grade for "eminent and conspicuous conduct," giving no such accolade to Hall).
Finally, in a public letter on 28 August 1901, Minister Conger denied that he had ever preferred any charges whatsoever against Hall (which was literally true), said he had personally defended Hall's conduct to Crozier and Chaffee, and referred with emotion to ". . . great injustice."
And there the matter lies. Hall, officially cleared and stoutly defended by many friends in the Marine Corps, got his brevet, stayed on, and ultimately retired after WWI, a colonel.
Back now to the final days of the siege. . .
After the Myers attack, the defense settled down into a sniper's war between the barricades. As the Chinese made more and better use of their artillery, the need for some kind of counter-battery weapon became acute. On 7 July, the first secretary of the US Legation, foraging in the ruins of an iron-monger's shop, came upon an ancient cannon. Navy Gunner's Mate Mitchell, with true bluejacket ingenuity, concluded that this muzzle-loading relic might, in an approximate way, be adapted to shoot the Russian detachment's gunless stock of ammunition. In two days of tinkering, Mitchell mounted his find on a pair of ricksha wheels, and gingerly testfired it (whereupon the first round dismounted barrel from carriage).
Besides the Russian shells, which worked quite well, Mitchell tested it with a bag of nails: the lethal shrapnel exceeded all hopes. The gun was at first christened "The International," but finally the appreciative troops just called it "Betsy" or "The Old Crock." "Betsy" shared honors, however, with the Marines' Colt machine gun, of which one Englishman noted, "They say it has killed more men than all the rest put together."
On 15 July activity flared briefly on the Wall, where Capt Hall was building a new barricade to cover the rear (Hata Men) face of his position. Here, under heavy fire, Pvt Daniel Daly won his first Medal of Honor by cooly holding an advance position alone, until Hall went back for reinforcements.
After 16 July, a kind of truce, punctuated by pot shots, prevailed until Peking was finally relieved on 14 August. By this time 17 of the original 56 Marine and Navy defenders had been killed or wounded. Of the officers, only Capt Hall was unwounded.
The Relief of Peking
After five weeks on the way from the States, MajGen Adna R. Chaffee, USA, finally arrived at Tientsin on 30 July, and with a flourish, assumed command of all US forces.
Accompanying Gen Chafee were substantial reinforcements: one more battalion of Marines (from San Francisco, under Maj W. P. Biddle) ; two battalions of the 14th Infantry; the 6th Cavalry; and Riley's Battery, 5th Artillery. By order of President Roosevelt, all Marines in China thereupon came under the Army, and, Col Meade having been invalided to Mare Island, Maj Biddle -nicknamed "Sitting Bull" by his junior officers-succeeded to command the 1st Marines
To protect Tientsin, still far from peaceful, Chaffee peeled off a detachment of six Marine officers, two navy surgeons and 177 enlisted men. This left the 1st Marines still with two battalions, total strength, 482 (out of 2,500 US troops in the Peking relief column). Counting its CO, the regiment included three future Commandants of the Marine Corps: Maj Biddle, Capt W. C. Neville, and Capt B. H. Fuller. The regimental surgeon (a two-striper) had the highly suggestive name of Lung.
On 3 August, the 18,600-man international column sallied forth toward Peking. Despite two stands by Boxers (one at Pei-Tsang, the other at Yang-Tsun), the main enemy was the weather. As Butler related:
"There was no shade, not a drop of rain, nor a breath of air. The cavalry and the artillery kicked up clouds of dust, which beat back in our faces. The blistering heat burned our lungs. Nearly 50 percent of our men fell behind during the day, overcome by the sun. In the cool of the night they would catch up with us and start on again next morning. Our throats were parched, our tongues thick. We were cautioned not to drink the water, but no orders could keep us from anything that was liquid."
On 13 August the relief column reached the eastern outskirts of Peking. When the legation guards heard machine-guns (which the Chinese didn't have) they knew Western troops were at hand. Throughout the 14th, the successive walls of Peking fell before assaults mainly delivered by American, British and Japanese troops. The 14th Infantry led the attack, and their Colors were the first foreign flag to be unfurled on the walls of Peking. As Chaffee had at first assigned the 2d Battalion, 1st Marines, the inglorious role of guarding the US pack train, only the 1st Battalion was in the forefront of the battle, where it covered Riley's Battery in the latter's breaching of Chien Men and subsequently the gate to the Imperial City. When Capt H. J. Riley, USA, - "this admirable and lamented officer"-was killed by a rifle shot, he was at the side of his life-long friend, "Tony" Waller. Riley's devoted cannoneers kept up their fire uninterrupted, some with tears coursing their faces.
For political reasons, Gen Chaffee halted the US assault short of the Forbidden City, which had never been entered by foreigners. Since organized resistance had ended, it remained only for the relief force to go into billets. The 1st Regiment was assigned the southwest quarter of the Tartar City, with Maj Waller as provost marshal. Regimental headquarters occupied the Palace of the Eighth Prince, an accession which one officer described as follows:
"It was the usual Chinese succession of quadrangular courtyards with buildings on all four sides. The men were alloted sleeping quarters in some of the buildings. Officers took others. Yet another was converted into a galley where the men's food was cooked, and they ate. The courtyard, paved with flagstone, was drill ground and recreation hall.... By noon we were all established, sentries posted, Officer of the Day appointed, the Marine Corps routine in full swing."
To underscore, for Chinese benefits, the moral of the campaign, it was decided that on 28 August a representative column of foreign troops should march across the Forbidden City, from south to north, thus erasing its legendary invulnerability to foreign violation. The Marine Corps contingent was one company each from the 1st and 2d Battalions, 1st Regiment; the company commanders, respectively, were Capt W. C. Neville and 1stLt Smedley J). Butler. As the last troops cleared the north gate, a 21-gun salute proclaimed the fall of the Forbidden City.
After a month of oddly mixed looting and patrolling to restore order, in a distinctly edgy international atmosphere, affairs in North China quieted enough to permit return of the Marines to the Philippines, where Gen MacArthur (the elder) was crying for troops. On 3 October, the 1st Regiment headed south from Peking, and, on 10 October, sailed in Brooklyn and two transports (USS Zafiro and SS Indiana) for Cavite.
Considering the heavy Chinese fire, casualties in the Peking assaults, including those of Marines, had been light. Probably the most noteworthy was that sustained by 1stLt Butler (his second in the campaign) : a bullet hit him in the chest and dished off part (South America) of the large Marine Corps emblem which he had tattooed over his heart.
As the Marines marched out of Peking, Gen Chaffee shiped the Marine defenders' home-made cannon to the Army museum at West Point, and, on express orders from Secretary of War Elihu Root, established Company B, 9th Infantry, as the US Legation Guard, Peking-an act of inter-service trespass which evoked an outcry to the Secretary of the Navy from the Commandant of the Marine Corps:
"It has always been the custom to furnish guards for the legations in a foreign country from Marines, and this custom has not been departed from until the present guard at the legation in China was established, which was furnished by the Army. Army troops are never supposed to be sent to a foreign country except in time of war, and for this reason, legation guards and other guards required in foreign countries, have always been furnished by the Marine Corps. It is respectfully submitted that it is eminently proper that the guard to be kept at the legation in Peking should be furnished by the Marine Corps."
Regardless of Gen Heywood's reclama, clama, however, Marines had to wait until 12 September 1905-five years almost to the day after the relief of Peking-before a Marine detachment was finally allowed to take over from the Army, thus restoring the safety of the US Legation in Peking to the Corps which had preserved it in time of trouble.
Discussing the performance of the US Marines in China, an American observer noted on the spot:
"Our Marines lead in their intelligent work as soldiers. The accuracy of their shooting is extraordinary. Their ability to step forward, one after the other, on the death or retirement of an officer or noncommissioned officer, and take his place, is remarkable. They show the greatest aptitude to command, and are in no way disconcerted by the sudden increase in responsibility."
Writing perhaps more warmly from very personal observation and interest, Minister Conger spoke of ". . . all they so nobly did and so bravely endured on our account. . .. The United States Marines acquitted themselves nobly. . . . Their conduct won the admiration and gratitude of all."