CHINA AND JAPAN
Sail for Ningpo with chartered steamer in tow -- Insufficiency of our Naval force -- The Chusan Islands -- Ningpo -- Another passenger -- Bad weather -- Heavy rolling -- Ship ashore -- Receive a pilot and get off -- Anchor near Woosung -- Visit to Shanghai -- Escort of Minister Ward to visit the Imperial Commissioners -- Return of his Visit -- Delay at Shanghai -- The Allied Envoys -- Arrival and departure of the Allied forces bound to the Gulf of Pecheelee -- Hon. Townsend Harris -- Sail for the Gulf -- Preliminaries of the battle of Taku -- Description of same -- Flag-officer Tattnall's conduct on the occasion -- Reciprocal courtesies between that officer and Admiral Hope -- Appearance of the scene of action the following day --The Chinese defences -- Visit to Pehtang -- Sympathy with the English -- Their gallant conduct -- The Fourth of July.
Going through the Lymoon passage, (the eastern entrance of the bay of Hong Kong into the China Sea), we began to feel the retarding influence of the Toey-wan, as soon as the rising swell, created by the N.E. monsoon, sent the bows of the sharp little craft diving into the foamy wake of her powerful leader. The towing hawsers were alternately dipping into the rushing waves of the "wheel-water," and stretching to their utmost tension through the resistless strain kept up by our noble engines, in spite of the roughness of the opposing sea; but the speed of the ship was perceptibly affected by both these causes, and we came to the conclusion that towing was not the most agreeable or the most appropriate duty to be assigned the Flagship; but Uncle Sam is too desperately poor to keep up a sufficient force on foreign stations to perform the service he requires of the navy, and his dutiful nephews cannot, therefore, afford to stand upon their dignity when there is work to be done. It really had a most pitiful appearance, and a most humiliating effect upon our feelings, to see the Flagship of our squadron, consisting of three vessels and mounting in the aggregate forty-two guns, brought down to the condition of a tow-boat to a hired English steamer, and we all felt that even the urgency of the occasion failed to invest our employment with a shadow of dignity. I am far from being an advocate for a very large increase of our naval force, but it is impossible to deny the total inadequacy of the number of men at present authorized by Congress for keeping afloat a sufficient number of vessels to protect our commercial and diplomatic interests on foreign stations. Only 8500 men of all the grades or ratings required in men-of-war, are allowed to be enlisted for the navy, and if there were 15,000, ample and necessary employment could be found for them all in the more efficient protection of our constantly increasing commerce, and of our migratory citizens, who are spread over the whole surface of the globe. This conviction is the result of nearly thirty years' experience in the navy, and cannot be justly ascribed to any desire for personal advancement in my arduous profession, inasmuch, as my elevation to the highest rank known to the service, would now come too late in life to gratify ambition, or to be a source of any great rejoicing.
But I grow prosy and egotistical, forgetting the narrative in the desire to become a little too communicative, perhaps, with regard to my individual opinions and somewhat disappointed professional aspirations.
The bright skies and smooth seas which had generally marked our course during the active cruising of the ship up to this time, seemed now to be overcast with gloom, and ruffled with portending trouble. We did not get a glimpse of the sun from the day we left Hong Kong until we sighted the Chusan group of islands, a little to the southward of Ningpo -- though we navigated so accurately by the outlying islands, and prominent points on the coast, as to lose no time in entering the narrow passage between the two southernmost of this group, in which we contended about ten hours against the almost overpowering strength of the fearful tides, rushing in various directions around and among them. The hill-sides and valley of these beautiful islands are cultivated in every available spot by the industrious people to whom they belong, but there are few habitations visible, these singular beings preferring to pass most of their lives in the innumerable boats which were seen sailing in all directions through the labyrinthian waters of the numerous passages. A cluster of huts was occasionally visible, however, snugly stowed away in some smiling valley surrounded by trees of stunted growth, and almost concealed from view.
On the 22d of May, at about 8 P.M., we anchored five miles from the entrance of the Ningpo river, on the banks of which the city of Ningpo is situated, at the distance of twelve miles from the sea. The Toey-wan was dispatched to the city early on the following morning, for the purpose of conveying to the ship the Rev. Wm. A.P. Martin, an American missionary who has resided there nine years, and acquiring a thorough knowledge of the Mandarin dialect, which is used altogether in diplomatic intercourse with Chinese officials, and is spoken by the inhabitants generally, in the northern part of China. Mr. Martin's services as an interpreter were a very essential acquisition to the Embassy destined for Peking, as Dr. Williams did not profess to understand this peculiar dialect of the Chinese language; his residence in the country having been confined to the neighborhood of Canton.
All of the passengers availed themselves of the opportunity to pay a hasty visit to the handsome city of Ningpo, which is considered the best built and most cleanly on the coast of China; and they returned the next day quite charmed with this little digression from the stupidities of man-of-war vegetation. Their appearance on board was the signal for our pursuance of the voyage to Shanghai, and the leviathan was soon tugging away again at the useful minnow at her stern. But the weather proving boisterous and rainy, we were compelled to anchor again after reaching the convenient shelter afforded by the Rugged Islands, distant some thirty miles from the spot we had left. Here we remained until the following morning, when, as the indications of more favorable weather suggested, we made a second start for our destination, but the fates seemed to be contending against the accomplishment of our wishes with singular pertinacity, for we encountered a very heavy swell after getting clear of the lee afforded by the islands, and as it would have been imprudent, not to say unsafe, under the circumstances, to have attempted to cross the shoal water extending many miles out from the mouths of the Yangtze and Woosung rivers, the Flag-officer gave orders to have the ship brought to anchor just outside of the line of these shallow soundings, at about 3 P.M. The Toey-wan was cast off as soon as we anchored, and Lieutenant Semmes left to "paddle his own canoe," but as the Flag-officer wished to give him some instructions, a boat was lowered to take them on board, which had scarcely touched the water before the ship rolled her heavy guards down upon its gunwale, causing it to fill with water, and endangering the lives of those who were endeavoring to shove the boat off from the ship; fortunately no one was injured, and the boat sustained but little damage. Another boat was lowered with a more successful result, and sent to pick up the floating oars, etc., from the one which had been swamped; meanwhile, the Toey-wan got under way, and came near enough to receive the necessary orders from the ship's deck, instructing the officer in charge to make the best of his way toward the mouth of the Woosung river, and to send a pilot out to the ship as expeditiously as possible.
The wind falling light and the heavy swell continuing, while a strong tide swept furiously in a contrary direction, the Powhatan displayed a capacity for rolling quite equal to her fine sailing qualities, but by no means so highly appreciated; and as there was reason to apprehend that the violent exercise in which she was indulging would soon cause the masts to tumble over the sides if she remained at anchor, I was directed by the Captain at 8 P.M. to get her under way. The two boats were still towing astern, as the heavy swell running across the tide rendered it impracticable to hoist them in their places at the davits, but before very long the larger of the two, which was still filled with water, saved us any further trouble in the way of towing by taking its leave for "parts unknown," the hawser by which it was attached to the stern of the ship proving too weak to bear the additional strain caused by the boat's being drawn so rapidly through the water. It was too dark and rough to make any effort to recover it, and doubtless the ocean waif soon fell into the hands of a less wealthy owner than Uncle Sam, as there are numerous junks and foreign vessels at all times in this vicinity.
We continued under way at night, the ship's motion being much easier than while at anchor, and at daylight next morning, the sea having become quite smooth, her course was set for the mouth of the Woosung river; but at a little before eight o'clock it was discovered that we were approaching very shoal water, and all hands were called to "bring ship to anchor." I had scarcely taken charge of the deck for this purpose, however, before her progress was stopped by striking on a mud bank, while heavy breakers were seen quite near on the starboard beam, the misty weather having obscured every surrounding object up to this moment. Here was the climax to all the annoyances and disasters which had beset our course since the day we left Ningpo! After making every practical effort by means of the immense steam power the ship possesses, to release her from the decidedly uncomfortable position in which she was placed, it was determined to lighten her; and preparations were made to get the guns overboard; while anchors were planted in the direction from which the tide was running, to prevent her from working further on to the bank and becoming embedded in the mud. But not to be tedious with technicalities, recourse was had to every means ordinarily employed under such circumstances, for the purpose of getting the ship afloat -- all without success. Meanwhile, a boat was dispatched to board an English merchant vessel, seen standing toward the mouth of the river, with a request that her captain would communicate our situation to the commanding officer of the Mississippi, which vessel was then lying at Woosung. A Chinese fishing-boat was also employed to convey the Commodore's secretary, Mr. Allmand, to the anchorage with the same intelligence, and with instructions to send out a pilot as soon as practicable; the Purser and two of the passengers gladly availed themselves of the same opportunity to get out of what they evidently considered an unpleasant predicament, even should it not prove a dangerous one.
About 7 P.M. the pilot's well-known boat was seen approaching the ship, and the important functionary was soon on board, and the important functionary was soon on board, receiving from all sides a most cordial welcome, every one feeling that our deliverance from serious calamity depended upon his thorough knowledge of the depth of water, and the locality of the shoals and quicksands existing in our vicinity. He immediately informed us that we had grounded on a shoal called the "North bank," toward which the tide had forced the ship while endeavoring to reach the entrance of the river in misty weather. The tide being full at this time, orders were given to slip the cable and hawsers attached to the anchors that were down, and using the full power of the engine, the good old ship was soon afloat again! Reaching deep water after steaming two or three miles, she was again brought to anchor until the morning, as daylight was necessary to enable us to get out of the ugly spot into which we had been drifted, and it had now become quite dark. Efforts were made to mark the locale of the two anchors we had been compelled to "slip," so that we might secure them in the morning, but the piratical Chinamen who swarmed around the ship in their fishing-boats as soon as they saw her aground, had removed the buoys, and, of course, all trace of the missing anchors was destroyed, thereby rendering their recovery next to impossible, from the softness of the mud in which they were, doubtless, swallowed up. The ship's boat returned in the evening, and the following morning we got under way, by the direction of the pilot, who found it necessary to steam at "full speed," across a level plateau upon which there was just sufficient water to float the ship, extending several miles from the spot where we had anchored. Fortunately, the sea was unusually smooth, enabling us to cross this plateau without serious damage, although the ship struck frequently on the bottom with considerable violence. Passing this ticklish ground, all was again "serene," and we pursued our course with joyful hearts toward Woosung, where we anchored outside the entrance of the river, in the course of five or six hours -- having met the Mississippi and the Toey-wan on their way to afford any relief we might require, and directed them to return to their anchorage.
The next day we got under way again, and, by way of keeping us in practice as a steam-tug, towed into the Woosung the American ship Sultan, which vessel was lying near us with a cargo of coal just arrived from the United States for the use of our steamers on the China station, which was to be landed at Shanghai; but to facilitate matters, as soon as we reached the usual anchorage the Sultan was lashed alongside, and we commenced immediately the cheerful operation of coaling ship. During this time I embraced the opportunity of visiting Shanghai, where I remained four days in the enjoyment of the hospitalities afforded by the princely establishment of Russell & Co.
While here I joined a large naval and military escort, organized under the orders of Captain Nicholson of the Mississippi, to accompany our Minister on an official visit to the Imperial Commissioners, Kweiliang and Hwa-shana, with whom he desired to have an interview relative to the ratification of the Treaty negotiated by Minister Reed, in June, 1858. The escort consisted of twelve officers in full uniform, with several persons attached to the Embassy, (all of whom were conveyed in sedan-chairs,) and a guard of sixty marines, headed by the Powhatan's band; the Minister, with his Secretary and interpreter, being placed in the centre of the column, and the marines bringing up the rear. We marched four miles through the filthy lanes which disgrace the name of street in the old city of Shanghai, before we reached the residence of the high Mandarins entrusted with the diplomatic treacheries of the Monarch who condescends to mis-govern the "Celestial Empire."
Our progress was attended by marked demonstrations of admiring curiosity on the part of the greasy populace, as they crowded the narrow streets through which we passed, staring with open-mouthed wonder at the brilliant uniforms of the soldiers, and the resounding notes of the martial music. Arriving at the Yamun, we were received with the usual three-gun salute, followed by shrieking strains from the flageolet, which must have excited the most pleasing sensations in the breasts of the attendant "celestials," as their perceptions of all things are the antipodes of ours. Then came fulsome compliments to the guests -- painful self-detractions from the hosts -- a brief interview on official matters between the high functionaries, and finally, a grand collation of the gastronomic abominations in which Mandarins delight, and from which human nature revolts. This penance accomplished, the imposing procession was again formed, and after the manner of the King of France, who "marched up the hill and then marched down again," we found our way back to the splendid mansion of Heard & Co., where we found a substantial Tiffin awaiting us, by way of compensation for the horrors which politeness had forced down our throats.
Two days afterward, the 4th of June, the Imperial Commissioners returned the visit of our Minister, at the house of Heard & Co., in which he occupied apartments as a guest of the establishment. It was amusing to observe the undisguised astonishment of these high-feathered dignitaries at the spacious and handsomely furnished rooms, the rich and tasteful decorations of the table, and the affluent elegance everywhere visible, contrasting delightfully with the comfortless and poverty-stricken appearance of their ill-constructed and shabbily furnished habitations.
The official results of these interviews appeared to render our immediate departure for the Gulf of Pecheelee unnecessary, inasmuch as these Commissioners would have to reach Peking by land before the object of our Minister's contemplated visit to that city could be accomplished, and they stated that the journey between the two cities usually occupied sixty days! As the appointed time was near at hand when the exchange of the ratifications of all the treaties entered into at Tientsin was to take place, and it had been ascertained that the Emperor intended to have this ceremony performed at his capital, the Imperial Commissioners remained at Shanghai solely for the purpose of meeting the English and French Ministers, the Hon. F.W.A. Bruce, and the Count de Bourboulon, desiring to confer with them on some points connected with their treaties, which still remained unsettled. With the determination not to permit any objection to be raised against the exchange of the American Treaty, on the score of failure to present it within the prescribed period, Mr. Ward obtained from the Commissioners a written acknowledgement of his compliance with every preliminary stipulation, and informed them that he regarded the exchange as having virtually taken place. And the Flag-officer, desiring to obviate the delay attending a land-journey to Peking, and, at the same time, to give a practical manifestation of the friendly feeling entertained toward the Chinese Government by his own, made the courteous offer of the steam-frigate Mississippi, then at Shanghai, to convey the Commissioners to Taku, which they declined through fear of the Emperor's displeasure -- observing, at the same time, that as the right granted to the American Envoy to go to the capital was derived from the treaties with the Allied Powers, it was proper that he should accompany the Envoys of those Powers to Peking; and the general tone of the wily Chinese officials was such as to dispel any latent suspicion of the treacherous reservations which were developed at the second battle of the Pei-ho, about a fortnight later. The only remark they made to our Minister, indicating the opposition that would be made to the ascent of the Pei-ho by the foreign envoys, was an assurance that the Toey-wan would not be permitted to go to Tientsin; but it might readily have been inferred from this that the heavily armed gun-boats in which the English and French Envoys were intended to be conveyed to that point, would not meet with a more favorable reception in their attempt to ascend the river than the defenceless craft at Mr. Ward's command.
The Allied Ministers reached Shanghai on the 6th of June, but as they declined holding any personal interviews with the Chinese Commissioners, the necessity for their longer stay at that place was removed, and they started for Peking on the 13th. Meanwhile, the English and French naval forces were concentrating at this point d'appui, for the suitable escort of their respective Ministers to the scene of diplomatic action. The Admiral was at Shanghai, with his flag flying on board the steamer Inflexible, and as the vessels came in from the southern ports, they passed Woosung, and proceeded immediately to the rendezvous of their Commander-in-Chief. As the time approached, however, for their departure for the scene of their future operations, they were seen steaming gayly past us, on the outward-bound trip, having an air of confidence in their ability to destroy all the mud-forts John Chinaman could construct, and of delight at the anticipated opportunity of doing it, which could not fail to excite our professional admiration, and personal wishes for their success; although there were some among us whose prejudices against everything English were too deeply rooted to permit them to appreciate justly the energy and skill with which the naval operations of our trans-Atlantic cousins are almost universally conducted.
As soon as all the smaller vessels of the squadron had been dispatched to their destination, they were followed by Admiral Hope in his temporary flag-ship; the Chesapeake having been also sent in advance a few days previously. The French screw corvette Duchayla, with the tender, Norzagaray, soon followed -- the French Minister being on board the former, and the English Minister having previously sailed in the steam-frigate Magicienne.
The Hon. Townsend Harris, who had now been elevated to the rank of Resident Minister at Yedo, and had come over to Shanghai for a brief respite from his labors, in the steamer Mississippi, paid a visit to our ship on the 14th of June, and was received with a salute of seventeen guns. And on the following day, Mr. Ward came down to Woosung in the Toey-wan, with a large party of ladies and gentlemen, who were received on board with great pleasure, such an event being of particularly rare occurrence in that benighted region. The services of the band were soon brought into requisition, of course, and sundry polkas, etc., were executed in spirited style by the gay and agreeable company, but most unfortunately, they were soon compelled to retire to the cabin by a heavy rain-squall, and as there was no intermission in the fall of rain for several hours afterwards, they were finally obliged to return to Shanghai, late in the evening, on board the Toey-wan, and land in the drenching torrent which poured incessantly nearly the whole night.
The time had now arrived for our departure, also, for the Stygian Gulf, which was soon to be the theatre of such important events, and of such a disastrous defeat of the Allied forces. The Hon. Mr. Ward, and suite, returned to the Powhatan on the 17th of June, and preparations were made for our immediate departure; but as it was necessary to await the operation of the flood-tide in turning the ship's head seaward, in consequence of the narrowness of the river, we could not get under way until midnight, at which hour we took our departure. The Toey-wan having been anchored outside previously, was now taken in tow again, and we proceeded on our course, reaching the anchorage off the mouth of the Pei-ho at 2 A.M., on the 21st, without incident of any description, except our overtaking the Duchayla, which vessel had sailed from Woosung several hours in advance of us, and had the reputation of being "fast;" but by taking a different route through the Meiataou group of islands, at the entrance of the Gulf, she arrived at the anchorage ahead of us after all; considering, though, that we had made no pretensions to speed while acting in the character of tow-boat, she had not much to boast of in the way of a victory.
The Allied fleet off the Pei-ho consisted of twenty-one steamers, of various sizes, and on board them all the greatest activity seemed to prevail, as if "eager for the coming fray;" as it had already been ascertained that the Chinese had rebuilt the fortifications destroyed the year previous, and placed additional obstructions across the entrance of the river, which they obstinately refused to remove to permit the foreign envoys to pass to Tientsin.
The English Admiral's demands to this effect, were met with the impudent duplicity for which the natives of the "middle kingdom" are so distinguished; the gigantic coolie, who received all communications addressed to the forts, declaring that they were defended only by a few volunteer braves, stationed there to destroy pirates and resist any attempt by the rebels to advance upon Peking by that route; stating that his orders were to fire upon any man-of-war that might endeavor to pass the barriers or booms.
The bar, or rather extended flat, which has been formed by the accumulated deposit caused by the strong tides of the river, and reaches about five miles outside of its entrance, precluded the possibility of anchoring the larger vessels within that distance of the forts, and even the gun-boats and tenders were compelled to await a favorable tide to cross this plateau, upon which the depth of water never exceeded ten feet. On the 24th, Admiral Hope, in the tender Coromandel, the French Commodore in the Norzagaray. and Flag-officer Tattnall in the Toey-wan, the latter having also on board Mr. Ward and suite, with Captain Pearson of the Powhatan, and Captain Taylor of the marine guard of the same ship, crossed this bar, accompanied by thirteen gun-boats, all which anchored in the mouth of the river.
The Toey-wan grounded immediately under the guns of the forts, and as soon as her situation was made known to Admiral Hope, he dispatched the gun-boat Plover to tow her off; but the chain used for this purpose having parted, the attempt to extricate her from the ticklish position into which she had fallen, was relinquished, and she remained stationary until sunset, when the tide floated her off; previous to which, however, the Admiral offered the entire use of one of his gun-boats to Flag-officer Tattnall, requesting him to hoist his flag on board, and retain her as long as he desired. This magnanimous proposition was, of course, declined, although the generous feeling which prompted it was very highly appreciated. Meanwhile, the Flag-officer sent his barge with the Rev. Mr. Martin and four others, to ascertain, if possible, the chances for obtaining a passage up the river for this little steamer with her passengers; but they were met with the same brawny representative of the Emperor who had received the English Admiral's communications, and the same evasive replies returned to the inquiries. He condescended, however, to inform the interpreter that orders had been issued by his august Master to the Governor-General of the province, Hangfuh by name, to make arrangements for conducting the foreign Ministers to Peking from the town of Pen-tang, situated a few miles north of the Pei-ho, on the coast. He declined, though, to send the Minister's card to the Governor-General, to furnish conveyance for a messenger, or a pilot to guide the steamer to the mouth of the river upon whose banks this hitherto unheard-of town was built. No information could be elicited from this obliging subordinate, respecting the force within the forts, a matter of some curiosity to us, and of vital consequence to the menacing Allies; but the gracious assurance was vouchsafed that no harm would be done to the Toey-wan, unless she attempted to remove the booms, which was not very likely under the circumstances.
The Flag-officer communicated the result of this interview to the English Admiral, as he had already determined to comply with Mr. Bruce's request to open a passage to Tientsin for him, via the Pei-ho, the information came too late to be of any service, although it might have been, if the English Minister would have consented to pursue the new route indicated. The absence of the usual Chinese display of flags and men on the walls of their forts in the presence of an enemy, and the greater part of the port-holes being covered with mats, no doubt, deceived the Admiral into the belief that they were not very strongly defended; but, at all events, he was bound to make the attempt to force a passage up the river, and as the day was near at hand when the Minister should be in Peking, (the 27th,) he ordered one of the gun-boats to commence the removal of the stakes composing the first barrier, on the night succeeding the interview referred to. A single gun was fired from one of the forts at the vessel employed in this work, but she persevered until an opening was made sufficiently wide to admit of her passage.
On the morning of the 25th, the gun-boats were arranged in order of battle, preparatory to attacking the forts; and just as the Admiral had completed his preparations, a boat was seen coming from the shore containing a Chinese official, who held in his hand a large document, which he displayed in such a manner as to attract the Admiral's attention, but he directed the bearer to be warned off, saying that it was too late for negotiation. At a quarter before three o'clock in the afternoon, the Admiral advanced in the gun-boat Plover through the first barrier, and ran full speed against the second, the vessel rebounding considerably with the shock; at this moment the forts on each side of the river opened a terrific fire upon the assembled vessels -- the first shot taking off the head of one of the men at the bow gun, and mortally wounding three others. The fire was instantly returned, and kept up with unwavering skill and undaunted courage for nearly three hours, although the shot from seven different forts were falling among them with the most deadly effect, and producing a scene of carnage and destruction almost without a parallel in naval warfare. The receding tide conspired with the over-whelming superiority of the Chinese force, to destroy or render useless the staunch and dauntless little gun-boats, leaving two of them aground in such positions as to render it impossible for them to do any execution with their batteries, while two others were sunk at their anchors, and still two more forced to withdraw from the action in a sinking condition, and seek the poor refuge afforded by the adjacent flats, where their injuries could be repaired during low tide. At about 5 P.M., a young midshipman came on board the Toey-wan from a neighboring gun-boat to inform Flag-officer Tattnall that the English Admiral had transferred his flag to the Cormorant dispatch-boat, and had been seriously wounded. While standing on the "bridge," (a light platform raised five or six feet above the deck and extending across the vessel,) a shot came from one of the forts, and striking the chain "life-line" extended along its edges, drove three links into his thigh, causing him to fall heavily upon the deck below, by which three of his ribs were broken. In addition to this, there were but six men remaining on duty on board the Plover, out of a crew of thirty-seven, and as the little Middy informed the Flag-officer of these disasters, he looked wistfully toward a number of large boats anchored below the line of fire, and stated that the Admiral was extremely anxious to bring into action the reinforcements which they contained. As the strength of the tide rendered it impossible to effect this object without the assistance of a steamer, and the Toey-wan was anchored near these boats, Flag-officer Tattnall yielded to the generous and noble impulse which prompted him to render this unsolicited service to the gallant Admiral, toward whom he felt under obligations for the prompt and handsome manner in which he had, the day previous, proffered him the use of one of his vessels. The suggestion was made to him that the step he contemplated would involve a violation of the neutral position occupied by his country in the belligerent turn which affairs had taken, but he replied, "blood is thicker than water," and ordered the Toey-wan to be got under way immediately, and to proceed to tow the reserve force of the boats up to the point where their presence was so much needed -- Mr. Ward and Captain Pearson expressing their approbation of the Flag-officer's determination.
At twenty minutes before 8 P.M., a storming party of 600 men, under the command of the senior captain of the fleet, landed on the muddy bank of the river, immediately abreast of one of the forts, which was not more than 400 yards distant. Many of these men were shot down in the mud before reaching the dry ground, and here they encountered three wide ditches, two of which were filled with water, and the third with large iron spikes, over which it seemed impossible to pass alive. While endeavoring to overcome these apparently insurmountable obstacles, the Chinese sharp-shooters which lined the walls of the fort, were throwing up fire-balls so profusely as to illumine the entire ground in front, and firing upon their assailants with such deadly effect that but few succeeded in reaching the walls of the forts, although most gallantly cheered onward by their commanding officer. More than one-third of their number were either drowned in the ditches or killed by the destructive fire of the enemy; and it was 2 o'clock in the morning before the survivors of this desperate attack found their way back to their vessels, the command having finally devolved upon the officer who was the third in rank at the time of landing.
After the Toey-wan had towed the first detachment of the reserve force into action, Flag-officer Tattnall felt in honor bound to call upon the English Admiral, and offer his personal sympathy and assistance. Without giving a thought, therefore, to the imminent hazard to which he would expose his own life, and consulting only his duty as a man, and the honor of the profession of which he has always been regarded as an ornament, he ordered his barge to be manned, and accompanied by his Flag-lieutenant, S.D. Trenchard, pulled alongside of the Cormorant, through the midst of the tremendous fire which the forts still continued to pour into that devoted vessel; the Chinamen recognizing the Admiral's flag at her masthead. Just as the barge came within a few feet of the side-ladder, a shot struck one of the oars, and entering the boat, passed through her bottom on the opposite side, coming within a few inches of the Flag-officer, and finding its exit between the legs of his Flag-lieutenant, as he sat in the "stern-sheets." Fortunately they were close enough to the gangway to reach the ladder before the boat sunk, and they were soon on the deck of the steamer, not, however, without a more serious misfortune than the sinking of the boat -- the Coxswain having received a mortal wound on the side of his head, inflicted, it was supposed, by a splinter from the oar that had been shattered by the shot. He was taken on board the steamer, and immediately afterward conveyed to the hospital vessel, where he died within a few hours, without having spoken from the moment the singular catastrophe occurred. His name was John Hart, and a finer specimen of a seaman is seldom met with. The Flag-officer was exceedingly grieved at his loss, as he regarded him with a feeling of personal attachment, growing out of his long and faithful services. Commodore Tattnall returned to the Toey-wan in a boat furnished by the commander of the Cormorant. While the boat's crew were detained on the deck of the Cormorant, they observed that one of the guns was very short of men to work it, and several of them immediately stepped forward unsolicited, and rendered all the assistance in their power during the few minutes they remained on board.
The allied forces were occupied during the whole night, after these painful and thrilling events, in endeavoring to recover their scattered boats and men, and to preserve as much of the property on board their sunken vessels as could possibly be recovered, and this in spite of the unceasing fire kept up by the victorious enemy, the boom of whose heavy guns was frequently heard breaking the still gloom of the night, and giving fatal utterance to his foul and cruel treachery.
Early on the following morning the Toey-wan returned to her anchorage, near the Powhatan, bringing out a large number of marines who had been engaged in the battle, and also the body of John Hart, which was buried about a mile from the ship with appropriate ceremonies. As soon as the minister and other passengers on board the tender were transferred to the ship, I was directed by the Flag-officer to assume temporary command of that vessel, and repair on board the English tender at anchor outside the bar, for the purpose of offering any further services the Toey-wan might be capable of rendering, apart from actual engagement in battle. The Admiral seemed to be highly gratified by this unexpected attention, and requested that I would proceed to the mouth of the river, and report the object of my visit to Captain Willes, the captain of the Flag-ship. Availing of a favorable tide, I crossed the bar, and anchored near the large dispatch vessel Nimrod, which was just outside the ordinary line of fire, though occasionally reached by a shot from one of the heavier guns. The next morning Captain Willes came on board and took breakfast with me, assuring me it was the first meal he had tasted for thirty-six hours. He requested me to remain until 10 P.M., at which time the tide would serve to cross the bar, and convey to the transport Assistance, at anchor outside, a portion of the marine force which had found temporary shelter on board the junks, seized for this purpose by the Admiral's orders, previous to the bombardment. This request was cheerfully complied with, and the service performed; after which I returned to the Powhatan, at 2 A.M., on the 28th, with the thanks of the Admiral, and the assurance of the Toey-wan's assistance was no longer required, as two of the sunken gun-boats had been raised, and nearly all the men had returned to their respective vessels.
While lying at anchor in the entrance of the river, I had a good opportunity of observing the defences constructed by the Chinese during the year which had elapsed since their total demolition by the Allied squadrons, under Admirals Seymour and De Genouilly, with a force of 2500 men; and whatever may be said of the ignorance and cowardice of the race, there can be no question of their industry, or of the adequacy of the works they had thrown up, to resist almost any force that could be assembled in the entrance of the narrow river, for the purpose of forcing its passage. There were no less than seven different forts, mounting eighty-seven guns that could be seen through the embrasures, and among them there were several throwing solid shot as large as our 8-inch shells; -- how many there were that could not be seen, will never be positively ascertained, I imagine, as the Chinese are not particularly communicative on such subjects to foreigners. The obstructions placed across the river extended from a point about a quarter of a mile outside of the two forts immediately at its mouth, a distance of three miles or more beyond their inner walls, two lines of abattis forming the outer barriers, above which there were two booms constructed of large logs of timber secured together by heavy chains, and stretched endwise across the stream at convenient points; constituting, altogether, about as formidable an obstacle to progress as could readily be conceived, even by those cunning and persistent enemies to the moving spirit of the age in which we live. In addition to this, the mud flats, which left bare at low water, extended a hundred yards or more from the channel, on each bank of the river; and they were sown broadcast with caltrops, rendering the passage between the channel and the forts sufficiently hazardous, even to those who might have the strength to stagger through the sticky mud, and the skill to dodge the fire of the jingalls and Mini‚ rifles, poured upon them from the parapet walls.
The beautiful dispatch-vessel Cormorant, which had figured so conspicuously in the capture of these forts the year previous, now laid with her stern hard aground within three hundred yards of one of the largest forts; and the Chinese evidently regarded her has having been fairly "bagged," giving her only an occasional shot by way of testing the accuracy of their fire, which was by no means remarkable during the twelve hours I watched their proceedings. She had been left to her fate the night previous, on account of the dreadful havoc made among her crew, and the impossibility of bringing her guns to bear; but an effort was made the night afterwards to float her off upon the flood tide, which would doubtless have succeeded, but for the unfortunate misunderstanding of an order given to the Engineer, who started the engine to "back," instead of "ahead," as directed; by which means the propeller got so embedded in the mud as to be immovable. But the vessel had changed her position, so as to present her full broadside to the fort; and as soon as it was discovered that she could not be started, it became necessary to blow off the steam which had been raised. The sound of the escaping steam awakened the attention of the unwary gunners in the fort, and they soon sent such a shower of shot at the devoted vessel, that the officers and men who had undertaken the daring attempt to recover her from the enemy, were compelled again to abandon the unlucky craft to the inevitable destruction which now awaited her. They embarked quietly in their boats on the least-exposed side of the vessel; and, all starting together, made one of the most exciting regattas I have ever witnessed -- shots flying around them, and over them, at every stroke of the oars; often drenching the crews with the muddy spray sent up by plunging into the water near them, and yet all escaped uninjured to their vessels.
The Lee and Plover were locked in the last fond embrace of dying love, with their graceful forms resting upon the inhospitable shore, near one of the forts, from whence the vengeful foe continued to project destructive missiles through their unresisting frames. The Kestrel sought refuge at the bottom of the turbid stream from the iron hail-storm which raged above; but, soon becoming dissatisfied with the change, she raised herself sufficiently from the superincumbent element to glide smoothly and quietly down the tide, until she reached a point where her astonished and grateful friends could with safety send a crew on board to conduct her to a more comfortable position. This vessel was sunk early in the action, quite near to the second barrier, and during the day I remained at anchor in the mouth of the river, her hull was totally invisible; but in the course of the following night, she was raised from the bottom by some unaccountable cause, and drifting down near to the Nimrod, a crew was sent on board from that vessel to anchor her on the flats, where her injuries were soon repaired. I leave the explanation of this philosophical phenomenon to the savans of the country, and have only to request a due acknowledgement of the favor conferred upon them by furnishing so interesting a case for their deliberation and investigation.
The allied force consisted of 1350 men (of whom only about 60 were French); and the loss of the English amounted to 450 killed and wounded, 29 of the number being officers; the French had 4 killed and 12 wounded. The Admiral and the three senior Captains were all seriously injured, one of the latter dying shortly afterward of his wounds.
The excitement on board the Powhatan during the bombardment was so intense, that the tops and masts were lined with eager gazers, and as I had been directed to have 200 men prepared to land at a moment's notice, I ordered the heavy launches to be got ready for hoisting out for that purpose. The work was performed in less time than it ever had been before, though it proved to be unnecessary.
Notwithstanding the disastrous termination to the diplomatic labors of the Allied Envoys, Minister Ward resolved not to leave the Gulf of Pecheelee before every practicable effort had been made to accomplish the immediate object of his mission. Statements were made to him through the interpreter relative to certain orders alleged to have been issued by the Emperor, for the purpose of facilitating his journey to the capital, via the Pehtang route; but these were supposed to be nothing more than a piece of Chinese manoeuvering, to induce him to leave the Gulf without giving any further trouble; however, to give the Celestials the benefit of the doubt, he requested Flag-officer Tattnall to despatch the Toey-wan in search of the village, where it had been represented the Governor-general of the province of Chihli, would be found prepared to carry out the Emperor's instructions. Accordingly, on the morning of the 29th of June, the tender left for Pehtang, though considerable doubts were entertained with regard to that mythical port having any claim to "a local habitation." The party on board consisted of the Rev. Mr. Martin as Interpreter, and the Secretary of Legation, William Wallace Ward, Esq., together with Lieutenant Habersham, who volunteered to act as pilot, having been employed upon a survey of this Gulf two years previously. Running three or four miles to the northward, the town was discovered by the masts of three junks anchored near it; but as the coast was extremely low, the entrance to the river could not easily be distinguished, and the water soon became too shallow for the steamer to proceed; so she was brought to anchor at the distance of three miles from the shore, and a boat sent to convey the three gentlemen who had charge of the official communication from the Minister to the Governor-general. On reaching the junks, they hoped to acquire some information about the entrance to the river, but they were found to be completely deserted; and as the boat approached the village, the inhabitants were seen flying in every direction, evidently suspecting the party of the most pernicious designs upon their unoffending abode, not knowing the American flag, as it had never before been seen by them, and fearing that it might be English. A messenger was instantly dispatched to the commander of a small body of cavalry stationed in a neighboring encampment, and, just as Mr. Martin had succeeded in inspiring one or two of the villagers, who remained within hearing, with a sufficient degree of confidence to induce them to return to him, the cry was heard: "The horsemen are coming! you had better run to your boat!" Handing the important document to one of the considerate and more emboldened villagers, and receiving from him an assurance that it would be safely placed in the Hangfuh's hands, Mr. Martin made the best time of which his rather elongated "understandings" would admit toward the beach, his companions looking in amazement at his sudden and speedy departure from the scene of his usefulness; and failing to comprehend the meaning of it, (as they could not understand the warning he had received), until they turned an inquiring gaze upon the Chinamen, who quietly but significantly pointed to a troop of horsemen, which could be seen advancing toward them at full speed. "Upon this hint they spake" not, but the description of walking they performed is generally known in this country as "exceedingly tall;" and the breed of horses in China not having received that attention which has been devoted to the subject in England and America, they succeeded in reaching the boat just in time to escape a somewhat more familiar acquaintance with the inhospitable dwellers on the coast, than they desired. They returned to the ship at sunset, quite satisfied with their experience of the northern entrance to the Pei-ho, and much gratified, at the same time, to find that there was some truth in the assurance we had received at the Taku forts, that such a place actually existed. Deciding now to allow ample time for an answer to Mr. Ward's letter to reach him before leaving the Gulf, we had the satisfaction, on the 2d of July, of seeing two large junks approaching the ship from the direction of the village, one of which proved to contain a Mandarin, bearing a note to the minister, from Sun, the Intendant of the Tientsin Circuit, informing him that the Governor-general was then at Tientsin, but that his letter would be forwarded to him immediately, and an answer sent as soon as possible. The other junk was filled with fresh provisions, sent as a present from the authorities on shore to our Commander-in-chief, and consisted of 20 sheep, 20 hogs, 23 bags of flour, 20 bags of rice, 189 chickens and ducks, besides numerous baskets of peaches and apricots, and a quantity of vegetables. After a short consultation between the minister and the Flag-officer, concerning the propriety of accepting this generous tribute to our inner diplomacy, it was decided to receive it, and to make a return of such things as it was supposed would be equally acceptable to those who had honored us with this attention; Uncle Sam's pork, whisky, and bread, of the quality usually supplied to his men-of-war, being luxuries in which even Chinese Mandarins might well be glad to indulge.
The "fresh grub" was distributed pro rata, among the officers and crew of the Powhatan and Toey-wan, somewhat after the manner of the knowing Middy, who ordered the men, when receiving their hammocks, "to take the first one they came to, and leave the biggest for the officers," taking it for granted that they were the best. But the shares received by the officers' messes generally, were sent immediately to the wounded sufferers on board the English men-of-war, our good friends on board the Chesapeake, whose crew had been terribly cut up in the recent action, receiving "the lion's share." This little mark of sympathy for the afflicted and crest-fallen among the gallant little band which had suffered defeat, but not dishonor, in the late battle with a hitherto ever-beaten enemy, did more to dispel the senseless prejudices and jealous suspicions which are so apt to animate the officers of both the American and English Navies, that if we could have joined them with our whole force in the attack upon the forts; and they hastened from all sides on board our ships to express their high appreciation of the feeling which prompted this natural and kindly attention.
The 4th of July finding us again in this wretched Gulf, but with altogether different associations from those by which we were surrounded the year preceding, the day was permitted to pass without any patriotic rejoicings over the event of which it is the anniversary, save the customary salute, fired at meridian, according to a regulation of the Navy Department. Our English friends were cheerfully excused from joining in this, as it would have been exceedingly annoying, if not dangerous, to many of their wounded men.
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