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Ages of Conquest: a Kings and Generals Podcast

Nov 15, 2022

Last time we spoke the first time the British and French armada attacked the Taku forts it was a literal cake walk. Reminscent of the first opium war, the Qing cannons proved inept at hitting the European ships. Elgin’s coalition made their way to Tianjin where they were met by the Emperors emissaries who began the same old tired procrastination strategy. Elgin was simply fed up and left the job to his brother Bruce who thought he got the deal won and done, but little did they all know the Qing had no intention of following through with the new treaty. A rebellion broke out at Canton and now Bruce was left with a new coalition force to fight yet again to get to Beijing to force the Qing to heed the treaty. However this time the Taku Forts were led by Prince Seng and he served the Europeans a truly nasty defeat. The tides of war were turning in favor of the Qing dynasty. 


Welcome to the Fall and Rise of China Podcast, I am your dutiful host Craig Watson. But, before we start I want to also remind you this podcast is only made possible through the efforts of Kings and Generals over at Youtube. Perhaps you want to learn more about the history of Asia? Kings and Generals have an assortment of episodes on history of asia and much more  so go give them a look over on Youtube. So please subscribe to Kings and Generals over at Youtube and to continue helping us produce this content please check out If you are still hungry for some more history related content, over on my channel, the Pacific War Channel where I cover the history of China and Japan from the 19th century until the end of the Pacific War.

#22 This episode is Part 4 of the Second Opium War: The March to Beijing


When news came back to Britain about the loss, Lord Derby’s government fell on June 10th 1859. Lord Palmerston returned to power at the age of 75 and wrote to the foreign office  “We must in some way or other make the Chinese repent of the outrage. We might send a military-naval force to attack and occupy Peking.” Elgin sat in on a cabinet meeting as Palmerston had appointed him Postmaster-General in the new Whig government. Elgin proscribed a moderate response, fearing that if Britain toppled the Manchu government the new masters of China would become the Taiping who lets just say were not great friends to capitalism and especially not towards the opium trade. For those MP’s who still sought diplomacy, a recent event had hurt their cause.

American ambassador John Ward made an attempt at diplomacy, agreeing to go to Beitang around 160 miles north of Beijing before heading to the capital. Yet instead of traveling in a sedan chair like any respectable Qing official, Ward accepted the humiliating Chinese offer to use a wooden cart without springs or a cushioned seat. The Chinese it turns out slyly told Ward this was the preferred method of transport the Russians took when in reality it was the typical transport for tribute bearers. Apparently the trip was so bumpy and painful, Ward chose to walk the last few miles. The Qing were delighted at the sight of the western representative entering Beijing on July 27th on foot like a common peasant. Ward like so many before him, ran into the kowtow situation. Ward said he was willing to bow but “I am accustomed to kneel only to God and women” to which some Qing court official said “but the emperor is God’. Another absolutely ridiculous war about the logistics of Kowtowing emerged. Ward was unwilling to do the full blown deal and kept trying to cut corners. The Qing officials asked if he could touch the floor with his fingertips instead of his head, he said no. They then asked if he could hide his legs behind a curtain so the emperor thought he was kneeling when in fact he wouldnt be. Many letters went back and forth trying to find a way to accommodate Ward’s kowtow, but at the last moment Emperor Xianfeng came out of an opium stupor and upon receiving the recent news about the grand victory at the Taku Forts demanded Ward do the full blown kowtow. The Emperor added, since the Americans decided to break neutrality at the Taku Forts it was the least Ward could do, ouch. If you can believe it, the kowtow argument went on for 14 days. The Emperor eventually ordered Ward and his entourage to be expelled from Beijing. Though this all looked horrible on the surface, in truth Ward went to Beitang without interference from the Emperor and signed a treaty with the Qing officials on August 15th of 1859. Wards success was due to the fact, unlike his British and French counterparts, America was not insistent on signing the treaty within the capital.

The American experience made Bruce look bad and Palmerston was fed up with the Qing protocols, kowtowing and such. The British newspapers were calling for blood after hearing news about the Taku fort disaster. Yet the situation was delicate. 10% of Britains tax revenue came from the opium trade in China. As Elgin put it in a letter to a colleague “If you humiliate the Emperor beyond measure, if you seriously impair his influence over his own subjects, you kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. [You] throw the country into confusion and imperil the most lucrative trade you have in the world. I know that these opinions are not popular. The general notion is that if we use the bludgeon freely enough we can do anything in China. I hold the opposite view so strongly that I must give expression to it at whatever cost to myself.

Then some international actions stirred things into motion. Italy suddenly seized the Austrian controlled territory of Lombardy. Rumors began to spread that France was mustering 12,000 infantry, two squadrons of cavalry, 6 batteries of artillery and 20 gunboats most likely to hit Beijing….or perhaps Britain. It does seem to all be hysteria, but one thing was for sure, the British needed to take action to secure their interests in China. The Foreign Secretary on October 29th ordered Bruce to demand an apology for the lives lost at the Taku forts, for unspecified reparations and an agreement to respect the terms of the Treaty of Tianjin. The Qing would be given 30 days to respond, no more tactical delays allowed, if they failed to meet the deadline Bruce would block the Bei He River. Bruce received the orders in January of 1860, but there were problems. The idea was to starve out Beijing, its been an idea tossed around a few times at this point. However blockading the Bei He river would result in just rice crop not getting north, those living in Beijing could simply sustain themselves on the other crops found abundantly at the time in the north, corn and beans for example. On top of this Admiral Hope needed to furnish the warships and it would take until April, thus Elgin began to showcase the issues and it was agreed to extend the deadline until March. 

The Qing responded surprisingly quickly to Bruce's ultimatum on April 5th with a no. Instead the Qing officials invited Bruce to negotiate with some imperial commissioners, not the Emperor and at Beitang. It seems the Qing remained ever emboldened by their victory at the Taku Forts, they also ended the response off by telling Bruce the barbarian representatives in the future should be more respectful, ompf. Bruce was out of his depth and many officials in Britain knew it. Instead of replacing Bruce outright they simply superseded him with another British emissary…his brother Elgin, double ompf. Thus Bruce was to remain in China to help his brother. Elgin had spent his entire time in Britain trying to stop the escalation to war and was extremely reluctant to take the diplomatic role again. None the less he felt he had to defend the treaty he had built and was being stamped upon. En route back to China, Elgin stopped in Paris at the Tuileries to speak the Napoleon III to ask what Frances territorial ambitions were in China. Napoleon III said the major drive was for Indo-China and that France was more than happy to leave Britain the pesky nation of China to deal with. If anything, weakening China would just help France more so in Indo-China, une gagnon-gagnon. 

Baron Gros caught up to Elgin en route to China and both steamed out of Sri Lanka aboard the Malabar. The pair were in for a real fun time, as a brutal storm hit their ship and it sunk taking with it Baron Gros’s uninsured plate and Elgin’s top secret instructions from Britain. Eglin and Gros were delayed 2 more weeks to retrieve their lost stuff, those documents Elgin had lost by the way held some brand new demands of China such as the annexation of Kowloon, something that might have distressed the French. Again, a rumor had been spread to London that Napoleon III sought to seize Kowloon. This prompted some panicky British officials such as our old friend Harry Parkes to negotiate a permanent lease over Kowloon with the Chinese Viceroy of Canton. In a bizarre fashion while the British forces were mustering for an expedition, this was occurring indifferently and the viceroy of Canton accused because he was bankrupt. 

The international force sent to China was staggering, 18,000 men, 7000 being French. Because of Kowloon easily going over to Britain, this allowed Sikh cavalry to perform military exercises on their large arabian horses terrifying the locals. The Sikhs and British brought with them a terrifying new toy, the 25 pound Armstrong fieldgun. It held the accuracy of a rifle with the destructive power of a cannon. It was designed to scatter large armies by firing a shell that burst into 49 angular fragments, making it one of the most brutal antipersonnel weapon in existence. I can’t state it enough here, this one piece of military technology is what will destroy the Qing forces, it performed tremendously. The French were armed with an outdated Napoleon gun for their own artillery. 2500 Chinese coolies were hired by the British at 9$ a month + rations and 2 uniforms. Ironically crime in Hong Kong declined dramatically after the British left with these men, seems they got all the criminals on the island haha. General Sir James Hope Grant led the British forces and commanded a special loyalty from the Sikhs as they served under his fair leadership during the Indian revolt. Grant got the job, not because he was particularly gifted, just merely the closest General in the east.

An allied force of 2000 British and 500 French were sent to seize Chusan island allowing them to assert dominance over the Yangtze and its critical use as a supply road to Beijing. The residents of Chusan were so traumatized from the last invasion they gave up without a fight. 50 miles north of Chusan was Shanghai whom welcomed the allies also without a fight because the mayor desperately needed help fighting off the Taiping rebels. The Taiping had recently seized Fuzhou and were on their way to claim the grand prize of Shanghai. The mayor of Shanghai pleaded with the Europeans to help despite the fact they literally were going to war with other parts of the Qing dynasty. The mayor offered to secretly report the ongoings of Beijing to the Europeans. The French counterpart to Grant, General Cousin de Montauban hated the chinese in general but really hated the Taiping rebels particularly because they were protestant. The French general wanted to annihilate the Taiping menace once and for all, but the British held the mans bloodlust back agreeing to use forces just to defend Shanghai against any Taiping invasion. Even Baron Gros went against his General agreeing with the British.

At Shanghai the Europeans helped augment the outdated Chinese cannons that could not aim properly to be placed as swivel cannons on the walls, which could fire outward and inward, a notably helpful feature against residents who might lend their support to the Taiping. They sold some pieces of artillery to the delight of the mayor of Shanghai. As Elgin approached Shanghai he was falling further into a spiral of depression, he had this to write in his diary “If I had been anything but the greatest fool that the world ever saw I should never have been where I now am. I deserve to suffer for it, and no doubt I shall do so.” Meanwhile the guy was getting letters from the Whig government saying if he did not conclude the China mission by the next meeting of parliament, their government would most likely fall and it would be his fault. Rumors had spread in London that Elgin’s overly appeasement of the Chinese was dragging the conflict on.

On July 26th, 150 British ships steamed up the northern coast to land near Beitang, just 8 miles north of the Taku Forts on the gulf of Zhili. The French fleet soon joined them and for 5 days they began to unload troops from more than 200 warships, if I was the Qing dynasty, already facing the Taiping horde I would be peeing my pants. None of the wall guns in Beitang fired upon the Europeans as they approached and as they opened the gates they soon figured out why, the garrison literally had run away. They also found out a lot of the wall mounted artillery turned out to be fakes made out of wood, and I just know theres a great embezzlement story for that one. The 20,000 residents of the city welcomed the invaders like liberators and even began to point out where the forces of the infamous Prince Seng had buried mines inside and outside the city. A lot of those kind residents were rewarded with rape and looting by the troops. It is alleged many of the women of Beitang escaped the rape by poisoning themselves with opium, strangaltion or drowning, my god. Many residents sought refuge fleeing to a fetid marsh outside the city. General Grant blamed the hired coolies who he said “were for the most part atrocious villains…the robberies and crimes they committed in the town were fearful”. But it is most certain all the groups present took part in the orgy of plunder and rape, war never changes. British Provost-Marshal Captain Con ordered 30 soldiers flogged for looting and military discipline was restored the next week.

The march from Beitang to Tianjin was a mud filled nightmare, an advance company of 1000 British and 1000 French eventually crawled along a stone causeway for 4 miles until they finally spotted Tianjin in the distance and a large horde of Prince Seng’s cavalry blocking the way. As the Europeans drew closer, hundreds of Manchus, Han and Mongol cavalry became visible. Their sheer numbers were intimidating at first until the Europeans saw their weaponry. Most were utilizing bows and arrows, spears, some 18th century flintlocks and of course Gingalls. The allies lacked enough cavalry to fight even such an under equipped force and pulled back for the time being. A Qing commander upon seeing the Europeans peel back away sent a letter immediately to Beijing proclaiming a grand victory had already been won. Then on August the 12th of 1860, Grant assembled 800 cavalry to march around the Qing blockading the causeway and to take them from the rear. The main allied forced would hit the Qing head on using 3 Armstrong guns. When the frontal units were within a mile of the Qing horde they open fire with the Armstrongs. The Armstrong shells exploded and tore to piece the Qing cavalry, but the defenders were truly fearless, even as their comrades at either side were literally blown to pieces, they charged at the invaders. The Qing forces got within 450 yards when the effectiveness of the invaders guns simply halted them in their tracks, creating 25 minutes of terror. The suicidal valor of the Qing impressed many of their opponents, Major General Sir Robert Napier commanding the second division under Grant wrote “they bore unflinchingly for a considerable time such a fire as would have tried any troops in the world”. The Sikh riflemen gunned down the Qing with enfields and pistols while they were met mostly bow arrows. Lt Col G Wolseley recalled “never saw men come on so pluckily”. The better armed but widely outnumbered Sikhs managed to force the Qing to break and flee. The Punjab cavalry would have caused an even larger bloodbath pursuing the fleeing Qing, but the mud trapped their horses. Many of the Qing fled all the way to the safety of the Taku forts. 

At the same time Grant had launched an attack on the Qing cavalry guarding the causeway leading to Tianjin when quite an unfortunate event unfolded. A drunk Irish sergeant who had recently took too much rum that he was literally ordered to delivery to the troops and got lost and stumbled into what he thought was a pack of friendly Sikh cavalry, it turns out they were Manchu. The Manchu cavalrymen seized the man and a few unfortunate souls who were following him. The Manchu ordered the Europeans to kowtow and they all did except for a Scottish private named Moyse who was beheaded on the spot. The Irish sergeant and other survivors were allowed to make their way back to camp to tell the others what had happened and they got back safely a week later. Their story made it into The Times which published a poem about the man, though it got his nationality wrong, typical English “Let dusky Indians whine and kneel,/An English lad must die./And thus with eyes that would not shrink,/With knee to man unbent,/Unfaltering on its dreadful brink,/To his red grave he went.

Two days after the kowtow incident the Europeans made their way up the causeway coming to a village called Sin-ho where they found the defenders had recently fled from. Further past the village was a large outpost called Danggu and unlike Sin-ho this was defended by Qing forces. Prince Seng had abandoned Danggu leaving behind Green standard troops. General de Montauban wanted to attack immediately, but Grant cautioned that the men needed rest. In a typical French-British rivalry fashion, de Montauban decided to attack without the British, but they found themselves quickly overwhelmed by the mud-walled fortification’s 45 wall cannons. This setback humiliated the French general who had personally led the assault, but it did not lessen up his pursuit for glory. De Montauban came up with a wild plan to attack all 4 of the Dagu forts at the same time. Grant insisted on singling out the most northern fort as it was the most vulnerable. De Montauban made a mention of the situation in his diary on August 20th “I shall nevertheless send a French land force to work conjointly with our allies. The object of my observations is, above all, to free myself from military responsibility with reference to my own government.” On August 14th, the British and French took Danggu using 36 guns and two rocket batteries before the infantry swept in. As one British Lt said to his commander “the Armstrong gun is a great success”. By taking Danggu, the Europeans were now in a great position to attack the northern most Dagu Fort that Grant had singled out, it was just a mile from Danggu across the Bei He River.

There was a 6 day delay at this point as the Europeans were bringing the rest of their supplies and equipment along the causeway and the French garrison in Shanghai had a nasty situation leading them to burn some of the city’s suburbs in an effort to drive out Taiping rebels. On August 20th the Europeans set up 6 artillery batteries within half a mile of the northernmost Taku Fort and called in for 8 gunboats to attack it from the south. Just before sunrise of August 21st the Taku Fort opened fire on their position. The Europeans responded by performing a rolling forward bombardment all the way up to 500 yards from the Forts walls. The European Armstrongs, 8 inch mortars, 24 pound howitzers and French 12 inch cannons rayes absolutely smashed the forts wall cannons until the Qing were only left with Gingalls to operate. At 6:30am a powder magazine blew up inside the fort causing a massive explosion, but the defenders kept the fight on. Once the Europeans were 30 yards from the fort, a French force led by General Collineau began to scale the walls, but there was a moat in the way. The French General forced a detachment of coolies to stand in the moat up to their necks while supporting the scaling ladders on their shoulders for the French to climb up and my god is that a heinous act. Apparently Grant felt so terrible upon seeing what happened to the coolies that he gave them all an extra months salary as bonus. Once the French got atop the walls they launched bayonet charges that scattered the remaining defenders while the British blew a small hole in the forts wall allowing their own troops to charge single file through. The Qing commander of the fort showed more bravery than many of his men. When he was cornered he refused to surrender until an agitated Captain named Prynne of the royal marines pulled out his revolver and shot the man dead. Prynne then took the commanders peacock feather cap as a trophy of war. It took a few hours for the fort to be secured.

The casualties were quite heavy, the British and French reported losing about 200 men, the Chinese were said to have over 1000 dead and another 1500 had fled the scene. 9000 surrendered to General Collineau, kneeling at his feet. The inside of the fort was a horror story. Thomas Bowlby described the devastation caused by the Armstrong guns to the defenders inside the fort “a mass of brains and blood smelling most foully”. Grant awarded 6 Victoria Crosses to celebrate the taking of the first Taku Fort. The taking of the northern most fort meant the other Taku forts were now uselessly outflanked, they had all been built to withstand attacks only from the river and were open from behind. The psychological effect was very apparent as within 5 hours, two emissaries from Heng Fu and the Viceroy of Zhili province turned up to negotiate. They were met by the ever xenophobic Harry Parkes who at this point was quite famous to the Chinese for being so xenophobic. Heng Fu’s emissaries offered to remove the booms blocking the Bei He River and to allow the European ships safe passage to Tianjin where peace negotiations could resume. Parkes proceeded to crumple heng fu’s letter and threw it right in the face of one of his emissaries, a man named Wang who happened to be an anglophile and fluent in English. Parkes he personally knew the guy, what an asshole. Parkes then began screaming that if the other 3 Taku Forts did not surrender within the next two hours they would suffer the same fate as the northern one. One European present at this parley described Parkes to be “harsh and unnecessarily violent towards Wang. This was not customary among European nations and the envoys should be treaty with the courtesy common to civilization”. Long before Parkes two hour screamfest had elapsed, white flags were already waving amongst the 3 other Taku forts without a single shot being fired. 

The path to Tianjin was now open and as of August 23rd, Grant took the armada unchallenged up to the riverway with the infantry as the cavalry made its way overland on the twin banks of the river. By August 27th the Europeans had an encampment just outside Tianjin and the ambassadors prepared to negotiate yet again. This time the Qing court sent the senior official Guilian who had previously negotiated the treaty of Tianjin, but this time he carried plenipotentiary powers. Elgin and Gros were notified of his authority beforehand and discussed amongst another the best strategy going forward. Both men presented new demands much harsher than the previous ones. The Qing were asked to make a formal apology for the casualties caused by the first battle of the Taku Forts in 1859; to pay double the original amount in reparations of 4 million taels of silver; the right to station ambassadors in the capital and to confirm the treaty of Tianjin. The Europeans would occupy Tianjin, which controlled the flow of food to Beijing, giving them the power to starve out the capital if the Qing did not agree. The Taku Forts would also be occupied and they demanded admission to Tongzhou, a suburb only 15 miles away from Beijing. Now Guiliang did indeed have carte blanche from Emperor Xianfeng, but he found the new terms so unacceptable he resorted to the classic Chinese ruse that he did not in fact have plenipotentiary which completely contradicted his original claims. Elgin recognized the classic Chinese stalling tactic because it had occurred so many times at this point. Elgin wrote in his diary “The blockheads have gone on negotiating with me just long enough to enable [Hope] Grant to bring all his army up to this point. Here we are with our base established in the heart of the country, in a capital climate, with abundance [food] around us, our army in excellent health, and these stupid people give me a snub which obliges me to break with them,” Elgin at the same time wrote to his wife “I am at war again! My idiotical Chinamen have taken to playing tricks, which give me an excellent excuse for carrying the army on to Pekin.” Thus Elgin and Gros both agreed the time had finally come to simply march on Beijing.

After the fall of Beitang and the Taku forts came so easily, Prince Seng was prepared to commit suicide. However he was ordered to retreat north to the city of Tongzhou just outside Beijing. Tongzhou stood on the road between Tianjin and Beijing and it was there he would prepare a last stand. He had sent 10,000 of his infantry and 700 Cavalry from Danggu and 40,000 Mongolian troops towards Tongzhou where he was amassing an army of 60,000. His instructions were not to attack, but to simply ensure peace while protecting the capital. As the Europeans marched, the Emperor dispatched more envoys and countless letters to Elgin and Gros to delay them. They kept saying that Guiliang had been confused and that in fact the Emperor had accepted all the terms if the Europeans would just stop their advance they could ratify the treaty. It seemed the closer the European force got to Beijing the high the frequency of letters and envoys became. But Elgin was fed up with the Chinese delaying tactics and told them all they would not stop until they reached the  suburb of Beijing, Tongzhou. Many of the frantic envoys made a counteroffer asking the Europeans to go to Hesewu which was between Tianjin and Beijing. Grant liked the offer because in truth, the military force was having a hard time keeping up their logistics. In a kind of humorous way, when Grant began to press Elgin about the logistical issue, Elgin began to blame the troops for quote “the difficulty of getting our army along is incredible; our men are so pampered that they do nothing for themselves and their necessities so great that we are almost immovable. I was disgusted to find out the troops refuse to drink their daily ration of grog unless it is iced.” I love the 19th century its so wild. 

On September 14th Elgin sent Harry Parkes and Thomas Wade to negotiate with two new emissaries the Emperor sent to Tongzhou. Their names were Zaiyuan and Muyin, Zaiyuan was also the emperor cousin and both men held real authority. On the very first day of negotiation at Tongzhou, after 8 hours of discussion which is light speed it seems for the Chinese, they accepted all terms. They also agreed to a protocol for ratification, the European forces would be allowed to advance to a place known as Zhengjiawan, just 6 miles from Tongzhou. From there Elgin would leave behind the majority of the forces and proceed to Tongzhou with an escort of 1000 men to sign the treaty. After that Elgin and his escort could continue to Beijing to meet Emperor Xianfeng for a formal ceremony of the treaty ratification. Harry Parkes traveled back to Elgin to report the great news and by September 17th he came back to Tongzhou to tell the Qing emissaries Elgin was preparing his arrival. However by the time Parkes got back, the Emperor had secretly instructed Prince Seng to destroy Elgins party when he came to sign the treaty. The Qing forces at Tongzhou were all hard at work preparing artillery batteries and surprise attack launching points such as millet coverings to conceal units. When Parkes began talking to the emissaries they suddenly began an argument about Elgin needing to Kowtow, it was all a ruse to delay. Prince Seng meanwhile counseled his Emperor to save face by going on a “hunting expedition” near the northern border. Seng did not want the Europeans to take the Emperor hostage, though there were many who believed it was actually a secret ploy to grab the dragon throne himself. Emperor Xianfangs concubine turned consort, Cixi urged him to remain in Beijing. The Emperor proposed to march out of the capital at the head of a huge army, make a feint attack at the European force and then flee to the safety of his hunting lodge at Rehe over 100 miles away near the Great Wall.

The European military officials told Elgin and Gros to go to Tongzhou with such a small escort was suicide and they believed it to all be a trap. On september 18th as Parkes was riding back to Tianjin to report to Elgin, he noticed Prince Seng’s cavalry massing behind these rows of millets. The cavalry were beginning to occupy Zhengjiawan and now Parkes suspected it was all a trap. Parkes dispatched Henry Loch, Lord Elgin’s private secretary post-haste to rush back to Elgin and report all of this. Meanwhile Parkes alongside two Sikh’s returned to Tongzhou to confront Zaiyuan and Muyin. When Loch got to Elgin it turns out his warning was unnecessary, Grant had sent scouts who had spotted the force at Zhengjiawan. Loch showing true courage quickly rode back to Tongzhou to report back to Parkes with only a single body guard. Both men were captured by Qing cavalry units and they alongside Parkes were offered safe conduct to meet with Prince Seng too which they agreed, I mean they had no real choice. Once they reached Seng they were both arrested alongside 19 Sikh, Thomas Bowlby and 3 British officers. 

Parkes remained fearless as he confronted what he described to be “a acne plagued, short, fat Prince Seng”. Despite being in no position to reject such an order, Seng ordered Parkes to kowtow. Parkes refused and was met with his head being smashed into the marble floor multiple times. Qing soldiers pinned Parkes down as Seng screamed  “You have gained two victories to our one. Twice you have dared to take the [Dagu] forts. Why does not that content you? I know your name, and that you instigate all the evil that your people commit. It is time that foreigners should be taught respect.” Parkes managed to free his head to look up at Seng and screamed “we came to you under the flag of truce and you promised safe conduct”. Seng laughed and had his men slam Parkes head back to the floor before he responded “write to your people and tell them to stop the attack”. Parkes replied “I cannot control or influence military movement in any way. I will not deceive your highness”. Suddenly European artillery could be heard and Seng ordered Parkes and the rest of the prisoners to be tossed into wooden carts and sent to Beijing. Parkes and Loch were shackled and incarcerated in the board of Punishments awaiting an execution. The prisoners hands were secured with leather straps that were moistened so they would shrink and cut into the victims wrists. Some of the POW’s were sent to the Summer palace for private inspection and public humiliation by the Emperor. It was Prince Seng’s intention to showcase these prisoners as such so the Qing who witnessed them would see they were not invincible and stop believing the Chinese could not win the war. The prisoners were forced to kneel in the palace courtyard, bound without food or water for 3 days. Their hands swelled and many became gangrenous. Disease and dehydration led to deaths. Parkes and Loch at the board of punishments were placed in separate cells and interrogated and tortured. After days of this they were demanded to write back to Elgin to plead for better terms.

Meanwhile Prince Seng had his men continue to dig in and for the first time the Qing forces held a lot of firepower, 70 guns in all. Seng had a 3 mile wide force of cavalry at Zhangjiawan serving as a road block between the Europeans and Beijing. Seng had over 20,000 troops and. approaching them was a force of 1000 French and 2500 British. Yet again the Qing were relying upon bow and arrows for the mounted cavalry and antiquated firelock muskets and gingalls for the, versus the British Enfield rifle, French Minie gun and the deadly Armstrong guns. Seng was using a strategy of encirclement before going in for the kill, something more akin to medieval tactics that had the serious flaw of stretching Seng’s lines out making them easier for enemy penetration. 

The smaller European force fought its way forward to meet head on with the bulk of Sings army just outside Tongzhou on september 21. The swift Mongolian cavalry charged in a broad wave at the left flank of the approaching European force which was moving in three columns, cavalry to the left, artillery in the center and infantry to the right. The British and French cavalry quickly split and pulled aside as the artillery in the center wheeled their guns around to fire upon the incoming Mongolians. The Armstrong guns poured salvo after salvo deep into the ranks of the charging cavalry to terrifying effect. The Mongolians pulled up in confusion then the British cavalry of Sikh and Spahi being led by De Montauban smashed into Seng’s left flank, breaking through the lines and scattering them into a chaotic retreat. Then the true slaughter came as one British officer put it “Our artillery opened fire upon the retreating forces with good effect. Firing slowly, every Armstrong shell bursting amongst them and bringing down the enemy in clumps”. A Qing eye witness had this to say about the same event “Our cavalry went out in front, but they were Mongolian horsemen who had never seen battle before. As soon as they heard the sounds of the foreign cannons, they turned back. The foot soldiers behind them scattered ranks, and then everyone trampled one another.” French infantry assaulted the town of Zhangjiawan as Seng’s Mongolian cavalry’s ponies were being crushed by the larger Sikh and Spahi horses using their more advanced rifles. As De Montauban’s cavalry penetrated the Qing lines, they retaliated as best they could with gingalls and firelock rifles all the while Armstrongs kept blasting. When the Qing cavalry began to rout and flee the Sikh and Spahi chased them down bayoneting stragglers. Despite the absolute carnage of the artillery and bayonets, Seng lost only 1500 men during the battle, but the Europeans reported only losing 35, a staggering difference. By the end of the day the Qing forces were broken and their remnants were in a full retreat to Beijing.

Elgin worried about the consequences of their victory writing in his diary “I rode out very early this morning, to see my General before he started, and to give him a hint about the looting which has been very bad here. He disapproves of it as much as I do”. General Grant had allowed the troops to sack Zhangjiawan, he considered it reparations rather than vengeance and thievery. Many of the women at Zhangjiawan feared rape, and many of the looting europeans were shocked to find countless women and children committing suicide by opium overdose. One man named Swinhoe recalled ‘the more conscious of them, beating their breasts, condemned the opium for its slow work, crying out, ‘let us die; we do not wish to live’”. Some British army surgeons began pumping the victims stomachs with such success only one of the victims still alive when the army got there died. Baron Gros shared Elgin’s disgust over the looting, he wrote in a communique to the French foreign minister  “J’ai le coeur serré par les actes de vandalisme que j’ai vu commis par nos soldats, comme par nos alliés, charmés de pouvoir rejeter mutuellement les uns sur les autres les actes abominable dont ils se rendaient coupables.” (I was heartbroken by the acts of vandalism that I saw committed by our soldiers as well as by those of our allies, each delighted at the chance of heaping upon the other the blame for abominable deeds for which all deserved punishment.)” After the looting was done the force began to march towards Tongzhou. While the Europeans were marching over at Baliqao where 2 large bridge went over the Bei He River towards Beijing a Qing army was forming.

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The coalition forces served Pring Seng a bunch of nasty defeats and it seems it was impossible to stop them from marching upon Beijing. All that was left in their path was the great bridges at Baliqao where Pring Seng would make his last stand.