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C H A P T E R I I
The Storming of Ping Yang
HEAR the story of the storming of Ping Yang by the Japanese army, in the heart of Corea -- the hermit nation -- and hear it from one who wrote by lantern light on the outmost ramparts to escape the terrific sounds of victory that roared between the shattered walls of the old city, while the reek of a thousand half-buried Chinese corpses rose from the darkened field over which the conquering soldiery still marched northward in pursuit of Corea's oppressors.
Lying on the parched grass at night, with my cracked lantern tied to an ancient arrow stuck in the ground, the breeze fluttering the clumsy sheets of native paper on which I set down the details of this historic struggle, I could hear the jolly whistling of my blanket-comrade, Frederic Villiers, the famous war artist, as he worked on his pictures in a wrecked pagoda two hundred feet away.
The armies of Asiatic barbarism and Asiatic civilization met on this ground to fight the first great battle of the war that ended in the fall of Wei-Hai-Wei and Port Arthur; and here Japan emancipated the helpless Corean nation from the centuried despotism of China.
The Chinese fired on the Red Cross, violated hospitals, beheaded sick soldiers, tortured prisoners to death, and used the white flag of peace to cover treachery, while the Japanese tenderly nursed Chinese captives and risked their lives to rescue the enemy's wounded. Japan covered herself with glory. I can bear witness to scenes of kindness and forbearance that shamed the military history of Europe. A nation that does not acknowledge Christianity planted the scarlet cross of Christ on the battlefield, and the thunder of the fight was scarcely over before the work of charity began among friends and foes alike.
The hoary city of Ping Yang, once the capital of the hermit kingdom, sprawls down to the edge of the Tai-Tong River, which is half a mile wide and without bridges. This is the eastern boundary. Its crooked streets ascend gradually to the west and north, ending in steep precipices, crested with castellated stone walls overlooking the valley. Beyond are several small, timbered hills. Southward is a level plain, stretching westward from the river for three-quarters of a mile to a range of hills. The muddy river runs north and south. From the fortified heights can he seen a tumult of mountain tops in every direction. A thousand years ago Ping Yang was the strongest city in Asia. Its walls are thick and its gates massive and well placed on the plain.
In forty-two days the Chinese army built more than thirty earthworks outside the walls of Ping Yang. There were miles of new fortifications. Many of the walls were fifteen feet high, and it is hard to understand how troops with energy enough to work such a miracle of construction could be driven from their vast fortress by an attacking force of only ten thousand men.
To the south of the city the Chinese erected twenty huge fortifications, loopholed and moated. They were garrisoned by six thousand bayonets and artillery, reënforced by a body of picked Manchurian cavalry, armed with swords and lances fifteen feet long. On the other side of the river they built three strong earthworks.
The western and northern sides of Ping Yang were defended by a continuous chain of new works, some on the northwest angle being on the summits of hills. One fort was three hundred feet about the level plain. In this angle of the city, on the edge of a precipice, were massed three thousand five hundred Chinese infantry and cavalry from ancient Moukden, with a small force of artillery. Still farther to the west were forts on three hilltops armed with Krupp and Gatling guns.
Everywhere on the broad walls were crimson and yellow banners -- hundreds and hundreds of them. Each of the six Chinese generals displayed an immense flag, its size indicating his rank. The flag of General Yeh, the commander-in-chief, measured thirty feet and bore a single character representing his name. That flag now belongs to the Emperor of Japan. When the Japanese vanguard reached Whang-ju, its commander mounted a hill five miles from Ping Yang and through his telescope he could see a tossing line of banners for miles along the line of fortifications. The Chinese officers strutted up and down the walls, preceded by their individual flags, while drums beat and trumpets sounded defiance.
As the Japanese army moved forward to the rescue, the Chinese generals made merry with the dancing girls of Ping Yang, renowned throughout Asia for their grace and beauty. All was pomp by day and revelry by night. The Chinese soldiers broke into the houses of timid Coreans, and treated their wives and daughters shamefully. Drunkenness and debauchery ran riot, and while the generals caroused with the dancing girls, the whole city was looted. Hell seemed to be let loose. The frightened inhabitants fled to the fields and forests -- men, women, and children -- and remained there until the Japanese army entered the city, when they crept back, many of them dying from starvation and exposure.
This was the situation when General Oshima led a brigade of about four thousand Japanese infantry, cavalry, and artillery in sight of the three forts on the eastern shore of the Tai-Tong River. The Corean vassals were bowing their necks to the Chinese yoke for the last time. Ping Yang was to be attacked by four Japanese columns, marching from the coast by different routes. Oshima's force was to make a demonstration until the three other Japanese forces, marching in from the coast by different directions, had stolen into their positions around Ping Yang.
The Chinese commanders, in huge spectacles, heroes of many a classical debate, and surrounded by the painted, embroidered, and carved monsters of mythological war, but wholly ignorant of modern military science, awaited the oncoming of the trim little, up-to-date soldiers of Japan, with all the scorn of learned foolishness. The Chinese garrison, wearing boastful inscriptions on their breasts and backs, and clad in bright-colored apron-trousers and wide-sleeved fantastic jackets, were armed with American rifles, which they had recently learned how to use.
Gray old China, profoundly calm in the knowledge of blue and white porcelain, immersed in the scholastic beauty of the ancient odes, -- lazy, luxurious, dreamy China -- had bought a few thousand American rifles and German cannons.
Yet you may arm a fortress with the mightiest enginery of death that military science can evolve; you may equip men with the most cunningly perfect weapons and flawless ammunition; but unless the trained brain, and eye and body are behind the mechanical means of destruction, unless every unit in the army is controlled by the law of the whole, unless the flag represents to the soldier something more then mere authority, and war something nobler than the mere killing of men for pay -- unless these elements are present, rifles, cannon, and repeating arms are in vain.
A few gentle, foolish Coreans skulked about the streets of Ping Yang in their white cotton garments and monstrous hats, and watched the swaggering Manchurian braves with a dim idea that the dapper, disciplined Japanese battalions, clad in close-buttoned European uniforms, were marching to their doom.
The broad Tai-Tong River lay between General Oshima and the city. Two thousand Chinese soldiers were in the three fortifications in front of his brigade, and just beyond was an insecure bridge, resting on boats, hurriedly built by the Chinese. To reach this bridge and cross the river to the east gate of Ping Yang, it was necessary to take the three fortifications.
For two days Oshima attacked the triple fortress. Then, by a clever movement, his bayonets carried the southern breastworks.
The Chinese had advanced out of their works just before dark, sending a cow and a band of trumpeters ahead -- a Mongolian skirmishing device. There was absolute silence in the Japanese ranks until the enemy was within a distance of three hundred feet. Then the Chinese column was swept by volley after volley, and took to its heels, followed by Oshima's cavalry, which was prevented from doing effective work by the dense brush.
That night General Oshima received word from General Tatsumi, who had marched another Japanese brigade by a circuitous route to a position on the north of Ping Yang. Another strong Japanese force, under the command of Colonel Sato, had arrived from Gensan, and had taken up a position on the northwest of the city, within easy reach of General Tatsumi. General Nozu, the senior Japanese commander, had stealthily marched in from the southwest, and his brigade lay in a valley between two small hills on which his artillery was placed. Ping Yang was surrounded.
Japanese couriers stole from camp to camp in the darkness, and the Japanese commanders agreed that the original plan of attack should be followed. Meanwhile, the Chinese drums throbbed riotously in the city, and the dancing girls beguiled the Chinese generals.
As the night wore on, the tired Japanese troops moved silently on all sides toward the city. The moon was shining brightly, and a light breeze came from the northeast. The Japanese ranks were as perfect as though the army were on parade. It is a peculiarity of the Chinese army that its pickets and outposts keep close to the fortifications, so that the garrison of Ping Yang had no warning of the advancing enemy until at three o'clock in the morning the skirmish lines of the four Japanese columns opened fire.
General Tatsumi's infantry lay under a round fort on the crest of a steep bluff -- the very spot where Konishi, the Japanese conqueror, broke into Ping Yang with his army three centuries before. A battalion of Japanese bayonets dashed up the steep heights, while another detachment of infantry charged around the base of the hill into a wooded valley, filled with graves, and, in the midst of them, the gorgeous tomb of Ki Cha, the founder of Corea.
The Chinese host swarmed down the heights to meet their foe, fighting desperately with Winchester rifles. There were officers in front and officers behind, waving their swords, and urging on the Manchurian braves. From the walls above a storm of lead cut the leaves and branches from the trees, but the Japanese kept well under cover, and drove the Chinese up the hill foot by foot.
Just at daybreak two companies of Japanese infantry made a bayonet charge straight up the hill, in the teeth of the concentrated fire of five hundred repeating rifles. The gallant little men broke into cheers as they emerged from the trees and climbed the precipice, while the Chinese infantry retreated in confusion to the round fort, many of them throwing their rifles away.
As the glittering line of bayonets swept up to the rough walls and the shouts of the advancing soldiers rang out over the ramparts, the Chinese garrison abandoned the fort and fled behind the walls of an inner fortification. A few leaped over the precipice, and their mangled bodies rolled down into a stream. Captain Koqua, who led the bayonet charge, fell as he advanced to attack the second fort. At eight o'clock the garrison in the second fort retreated to the inmost fortification, and the Japanese poured in through a gate, bayoneting the fugitives as they ran. The Manchurians fought magnificently as individuals. Nothing could be finer than the courage with which they faced the terrible volleys of the Japanese infantry, but the moment a charge was made they ran like frightened animals, tearing the uniforms from their bodies and dropping their weapons.
Now the artillery in the forts on the hills all around the city began to roar. General Nozu's batteries on the western eminence played upon the Chinese forts to the north, which were being attacked on the other side by Colonel Sato. His cannon also kept the twenty forts on the south of the city in a state of panic and prevented them from concentrating their fire against Oshima's lines. Nozu's infantry and cavalry scoured the valley under the western walls of the city, and by a deadly cross fire kept the Chinese garrison in the northwest angle of Ping Yang from escaping the volleys of Tatsumi's troops, who had already taken two lines of fortifications.
A terrific battle was in progress on the other side of the river, where Oshima's troops charged the three forts again and again under a terrible artillery fire, while his howitzer batteries tore gaps in the Chinese ranks. The Japanese soldiers were horrified by the sight of the Chinese hacking off the heads of prisoners in the distance, and they fought furiously, charging up to the very muzzles of the enemy's cannon. One of Oshima's battalions charged a fort on the bank of the river and carried the outer walls. Here the troops fought for hours almost hand to hand, but the Chinese held the walls bravely, while a body of their sharpshooters, lying behind the bushes at the edge of the river, kept up a deadly enfilading fire against the left flank of the Japanese. All the ground on this side of the fortification lay over subterranean powder mines, but the Chinese in their excitement forgot to explode them.
The great mass of forts on the southern side of Ping Yang rained shot and shell across the river, and the drifting cannon smoke was reddened with the flames of Gatling volleys and infantry fire. The death cries of men and horses swelled the giant chorus of battle, but the yells of the infuriated Japanese soldiers could be heard above it all as they closed in upon the forts and attempted to scale the walls.
The city was half hidden in battle smoke, and the crimson and yellow banners of the Chinese were riddled with bullets. Blood, blood everywhere -- on the walls, in the rippling river, on the green hillsides, in the flowering valleys. Blood trickling over gravestones, blood dashed against the walls of the ancient temples, blood on the rocks, blood on the roof-tops -- everywhere the cold gleam of steel in the swirling cannon mist and sheeted flame; and away off in the treetops or cowering in the grain-fields the terrified Coreans, listening to the sounds of the mighty struggle that was to make them free or confirm their slavery.
An hour after the battle opened in the darkness, two companies of Oshima's infantry crossed the Tai-Tong River in small Corean boats below the twenty southern forts, and boldly advanced upon the bewildering labyrinth of walls. Between the attacking companies and the forts was a wide moat filled with water and mined with torpedoes. A thousand Chinese bayonets advanced to meet the Japanese, but were driven back across the moat, inside of the fort.
The sky darkened and rain fell. To the amazement of the Japanese soldiers, the Chinese troops planted huge oiled-paper umbrellas on the walls of their forts to keep them dry while they fought. In every direction Chinese umbrellas could be seen, glistening like turtles on the earthworks.
Now came the most magnificent spectacle of the battle. The garrison in the city, unable to withstand the withering fire of the Japanese, were attempting to feel their way out. A body of two hundred and seventy Manchurian cavalry, mounted on snow-white horses, moved from the northwest angle of Ping Yang, galloped along a road skirting the city's western wall, and on reaching the southern end of the road, suddenly wheeled and charged down the valley, where Nozu's troops were stretched across from hill to hill between his batteries.
On went the splendid troops of warriors, and the earth shook as they thundered into the valley, with their long black lances set and pennons dancing from the shining spear-points. A few were armed with rifles and bayonets. On, over the stream and through the rice-fields, a heaving mass of blue and scarlet, rising and falling on billows of white horses and bristling with steel.
Not a man stirred in the Japanese line, as the Manchurians swept down on the centre, prepared to cut their way through and escape. When the cavalry were within two hundred feet, the earth seemed to open and vomit smoke and flame, as the united Japanese infantry and artillery opened fire upon the doomed horsemen. Horses and riders went down together, and were hurled in bloody heaps. Forty of the Manchurians escaped through the line, but were cut in pieces by a separate company of Japanese cavalry in the rear.
Three hundred more rode out from the artillery-swept heights -- three hundred brilliantly clad warriors, also on white horses. Halting for a moment, and setting their long lances, they charged down the slope. The dense smoke in the valley prevented them from learning the fate of their comrades who preceded them. As they galloped forward, the Chinese artillerymen cheered them. Down into the gray mist of death they went, and when they reached the middle of the valley, the Japanese line fell upon them. Not a man escaped. A third charge of a hundred horsemen resulted in utter annihilation.
The scene was horrible beyond words to tell, and the streams on either side of the valley road were red with Chinese blood. After the battle, there were counted in a space of two hundred yards the bodies of two hundred and seventy horses and two hundred and sixty men.
The rain continued to fall in torrents, and the Chinese soldiers on the walls, huddling under their umbrellas, blazed away blindly. All this time the storming party in the two captured fortifications at the northwest angle of the city was pressing the troops in the inner forts, sending volley upon volley over the walls. This was the key of the situation. The Japanese commanders could see the great flags of the Chinese generals just beyond.
At four o'clock in the afternoon the Chinese hoisted a white flag on the inner fort, and a party of Japanese officers descended from the captured positions to parley at the gate. The Chinese officers gravely announced that it was impossible to surrender in the rain, as the wet weather prevented them from making the proper arrangements for a capitulation. If the Japanese would stop fighting until the next day, and the weather cleared, the city would be surrendered.
The watchful Japanese officers observed Chinese troops stealing forward along the walls under cover of the flag of truce. They answered that an army that could fight in the rain could also surrender in the rain. They insisted that the hoisting of the white flag over the enemy's works was an act of surrender and demanded that the gate should be thrown open so that the Japanese troops might enter without further bloodshed. Again the bedizened Chinese officers pleaded for delay. It was raining very hard, and the mud was very deep. It would be a terrible thing to move the garrison out of shelter; but to-morrow they would cheerfully go away.
It was evident that the crafty Chinese were merely trying to gain time. The Japanese renewed the assault and fought long into the night. Every now and then flights of Corean arrows came whizzing through the darkness. The Chinese were forcing the childish native soldiers into the fight, slashing them over the shoulders with whips. Hour after hour the hungry and exhausted soldiers struggled on the slippery and bloody hill. Those who were killed fell headlong over the ramparts into the valley. The rain beat in the faces of the fighters and drenched their bodies as they pressed on in the gloom, their path lit only by the blaze of the rifle volleys. The fighting had ceased on all other sides of the city. The whole Chinese garrison, with the exception of the Moukden troops defending the northwest angle had fled in the darkness between the forces of Colonel Sato and General Nozu.
As the Chinese retreated through the valley they cut the heads and hands from the Japanese dead. They broke into the Japanese hospital quarters, butchered and beheaded the wounded men, and swept to the north with their dancing girls and bloody trophies.
The Japanese fighting on the heights above caught a glimpse of the flying troops among the trees in the valley below and sent a volley into their flank.
After twenty-two hours of continuous fighting General Tatsumi's infantry carried the inner fortifications of the northwest angle by sheer dash. At one o'clock in the morning they scaled the walls. The Chinese garrison howled and ran about like hunted wolves. They jumped over the parapets and crawled under the bushes. As they ran they threw away their arms and uniforms.
Meanwhile General Oshima's brigade had gained the rude bridge on boats and had crossed the river. A bullet wounded him in the side, killed the interpreter behind him, and passed through a regimental flag.
Thirty Japanese war correspondents, armed with enormous swords, entered Ping Yang at the head of the army, and fought until they were exhausted. The general was compelled to issue an order prohibiting newspaper men from fighting.
When day dawned Ping Yang was in the hands of the Japanese army. The scene around the city was ghastly. For miles the ground was littered with dead men and horses. Thousands of gay Chinese uniforms were scattered on the field. At the first sign of defeat the officers and men had stripped themselves of their outer clothing in order to claim immunity as merchants. Nine hundred prisoners were taken, and not a man was in uniform.
All along the ramparts of the city the ground was covered with empty cartridge shells. In some places they lay an inch deep. Thousands of birds of prey were feeding on the dead lying among broken lances, overturned cannons, heaps of camp wreck, torn banners, swords, and dead horses.
That victory ended the power of China in Corea.
After gathering the story of the battle, I travelled in a junk down the Tai-Tong River and thence along the Corean coast in a steamer to Chemulpo. From that city a messenger took my despatch over the sea to Japan, and from there it was sent to San Francisco and telegraphed across the continent to New York.
When I arrived in the dirty little Corean seaport, weary and sickened by the bloody field of Ping Yang, a messenger handed me a cablegram from Ohio. It contained two words -- "Boy -- well." It was the announcement of the birth of my first child. Thirteen tissue paper tags, bearing the seals of thirteen different headquarters of the Japanese army, showed that the news had been carried from battlefield to battlefield to reach me. The news of a new life was brought to me from the other side of the world, just as I sent word of a thousand freshly slain.
That night, on my way back to Ping Yang, I found the main Japanese fleet at the mouth of the Tai-Tong River. Admiral Ito had defeated the Chinese fleet, and had just fallen back on the Corean coast for repairs and ammunition. It was a great opportunity for a war correspondent. No other newspaper man had reached the victorious fleet, and fortune had given to me the first story of the most important naval fight of modern times -- the battle of the Yalu.
When I boarded the flagship Hashidate, Admiral Ito was asleep, but he dressed himself and sent for his fleet captains in order to help me out with the details of the conflict.
As the Japanese admiral sat at his table, surrounded by his officers, with the rude charts of the battle spread out before him, he looked like a sea-commander -- tall, eagle-eyed, square-jawed, with a sabre scar furrowed across his broad forehead; a close-mouthed man whose coat was always buttoned to his chin. Bending over the maps and smoothing out the paper with his sinewy, big-knuckled hands, the lamp-light gleaming against his powerful face, he was a man not easily forgotten.
And when the tale of that thrilling struggle on the Yellow Sea was over, the admiral turned to me smilingly.
"It is a big piece of news for you," he said.
"Yes," I answered, "but I have received a still greater piece of news."
Then I drew from my pocket the cablegram announcing the birth of my boy, and read it.
"Good!" cried the admiral. "We will celebrate the event. Steward, bring champagne!"
Standing in a circle, the admiral and his captains clinked their glasses together and drank the health of my little son.
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