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General Charles George Gordon
Charles George Gordon, known as Chinese Gordon, major-general, C.B., royal engineers, fourth son of Lieutenant-general Henry William Gordon, royal artillery, and Elizabeth, daughter of Samuel Enderby, of Croom's Hill, Blackheath, was born at Woolwich on January 28, 1833. He was sent to school at Taunton in 1843, and entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich in 1848. He obtained a commission in the royal engineers on June 23, 1852, and, after the usual course of study at Chatham was quartered for a short time at Pembroke Dock. In December, 1854, he received his orders for the Crimea, and reached Balaklava on January 1, 1855. As a young engineer subaltern serving in the trenches, his daring was conspicuous, while his special aptitude for obtaining a personal knowledge of the movements of the enemy was a matter of common observation among his brother officers. He was wounded on June 6, 1855, and was present at the attack on the Redan on June 18th. On the surrender of Sebastopol Gordon accompanied the expedition to Kinburn, and on his return was employed on the demolition of the Sebastopol docks. For his services in the Crimea Gordon received the British war medal and clasp, the Turkish war medal, and the French Legion of Honor.
Gordon attacked by El Mahdi's Arabs.
When Soo-chow fell, Gordon had stipulated with the governor-general, Li, for the lives of the Wangs (rebel leaders). They were treacherously murdered by Li's orders. Indignant at this perfidy, Gordon refused to serve any longer with Governor Li, and when on January 1, 1864, money and rewards were heaped upon him by the emperor, declined them all, saying that he received the approbation of the emperor with every gratification, but regretted most sincerely that, "owing to the circumstances which occurred since the capture of Soo-chow, he was unable to receive any mark of his majesty the emperor's recognition."
After some months of inaction it became evident that if Gordon did not again take the field the Taipings would regain the rescued country. On the urgent representations of the British envoy at Pekin, Governor Li was compelled to issue a proclamation exonerating Gordon from all complicity in the murder of the Wangs. Gordon then reluctantly consented to continue his services, on the distinct understanding that in any future capitulation he should not be interfered with. In December, 1863, a fresh campaign was commenced, and during the following months no fewer than seven towns were captured or surrendered. In February, 1864, Yesing and Liyang were taken, but at Kintang Gordon met with a reverse and was himself wounded for the first time. He nevertheless continued to give his orders until he had to be carried to his boat. After some other mishaps he carried Chan-chu-fu by assault on April 27th. The garrison consisted of 20,000 men, of whom 1,500 were killed. This victory not only ended the campaign but completely destroyed the rebellion, and the Chinese regular forces were enabled to occupy Nankin in the July following. The large money present offered to Gordon by the emperor was again declined, although he had spent his pay promoting the efficiency of his force, so that he wrote home, "I shall leave China as poor as when I entered it." The emperor, however, bestowed upon him the yellow jacket, and peacock's feather of a mandarin of the first class, with the title of Ti-Tu, the highest military rank in China, and a gold medal of distinction of the first class. The merchants of Shanghai presented him with an address expressing their admiration of his conduct of the war.
On his return home, in the beginning of 1865, he was made a C.B., having previously received his brevet as lieutenant-colonel in February, 1864. In September, 1865, he was appointed commanding royal engineer at Gravesend, and for the next six years carried out the ordinary duties of the corps, superintending the construction of the forts for the defence of the Thames. During this quiet and uneventful period of routine work he devoted his spare time to the poor and sick of the neighborhood, stinting himself that he might have larger means wherewith to relieve others. He took special interest in the infirmary and the ragged schools. He took many of the boys from the schools into his own house, starting them in life by sending them to sea, and he continued to watch the future progress of his kings, as he called them, with never-failing sympathy.
In October, 1871, Gordon was appointed British member of the international commission at Galatz for the improvement of the navigation of the Sulina mouth of the Danube, in accordance with the Treaty of Paris. During his tenure of this office he accompanied General Sir John Adye to the Crimea to report on the British cemeteries there. On his way back to Galatz, in November, 1872, he met Nubar Pasha at Constantinople, who sounded him as to his succeeding Sir Samuel Baker in the Soudan. The following year Gordon visited Cairo on his way home, and on the resignation of Sir Samuel Baker was appointed governor of the equatorial provinces of Central Africa, with a salary of #10,000 a year. He declined to receive more than #2,000.
Gordon went to Egypt in the beginning of 1874, and left Cairo in February for Gondokoro, the seat of his government, travelling by the Suez-Swakin-Berber route. He reached Khartoum on March 13th, stopped only a few days to issue a proclamation and make arrangements for men and supplies, then, continuing his journey, arrived at Gondokoro on April 16th. The garrison of Gondokoro at this time did not dare to move out of the place except in armed bands; but in the course of a year the confidence of the natives had been gained, the country made safe, eight stations formed and garrisoned, the government monopoly of ivory enforced, and sufficient money sent to Cairo to pay all the expenses of the expedition. At the close of the year, having already lost by sickness eight members of his small European staff, Gordon transferred the seat of government from the unhealthy station, Gondokoro, to Laido. By the end of 1875 Gondokoro and Duffh had been joined by a chain of fortified posts, a day's journey apart, the slave-dealers had been dispersed, and a letter post organized to travel regularly between Cairo and the verge of the Albert Nyanza, over two thousand miles as the crow flies.
Gordon had also visited Magungo, Murchison Falls, and Chibero, with a view to a further line of fortified posts, and he established for the first time, by personal observation, the course of the Victoria Nile into Lake Albert. Although he had accomplished a great work since his arrival, his efforts to put down the slave trade were thwarted by Ismail Pasha Yacoub, governor-general of the Soudan, and were likely to prove abortive so long as the Soudan remained a distinct government from that of the equatorial provinces. He, therefore, at the end of 1876, resigned his appointment and returned to England. Strong pressure was put upon him by the khedive to return, and on January 31, 1877, he left for Cairo, where he received the combined appointment of governor-general of the Soudan, Darfour, the equatorial provinces, and the Red Sea littoral, on the understanding that his efforts were to be directed to the improvement of the means of communication and the absolute suppression of the slave trade. Gordon first visited Abyssinia, where Walad el Michael was giving a great deal of trouble on the Egyptian frontier. He settled the difficulty for a time and travelled across country to Khartoum, where he was installed as governor-general, May 5th. After a short stay there he hastened to Darfour, which was in revolt; with a small force and rapid movements he quelled the rising, and, by the humane consideration he showed for the suffering people, won their confidence and pacified the province. Before this work was completely accomplished his attention was called away by the slave-dealers, who, headed by Suleiman, son of the notorious Zebehr, with 6,000 armed men, had moved on Dara from their stronghold, Shaka. Gordon left Fischer on August 31, 1877, with a small escort, which he soon outstripped, and in a day and a half, having covered eighty-five miles on a camel, entered Dara alone, to the surprise of its small garrison. The following morning, attended by a small escort, he rode into the rebel camp, upbraided Suleiman with his disloyalty, and announced his intention to disarm the band and break them up. Gordon's fearless bearing and strong will secured his object, and Suleiman returned with his men to Shaka.
They rose again; and Gordon's Italian aide, Gessi, after a year's marching and fighting, succeeded in capturing Suleiman, and some of the chief slave-dealers with him. They were tried as rebels and shot. The suppression of the slave trade had thus been practically accomplished when on July 1st news arrived of the deposition of Ismail and the succession of Tewfik, which determined Gordon to resign his appointment. On arriving at Cairo, the khedive induced him first to undertake a mission to Abyssinia to prevent, if possible, an impending war with that country. Gordon went, saw King John, at Debra Tabor, but could arrive at no satisfactory understanding with him, and was abruptly dismissed. On his way to Kassala he was made prisoner to King John's men and carried to Garramudhiri, where he was left to find his way with his little party over the snowy mountains to the Red Sea. He reached Massowah on December 8, 1879, and on his return to Cairo, the khedive accepted his resignation. He arrived in England early in January, 1880. During his service under the khedive, Gordon received both the second-and first-class of the order of the Medjidieh.
His constitution was so much impaired by his sojournings in so deadly a climate that his medical advisers sent him to Switzerland to recruit. He returned to England, in April, 1880, and in the following month accompanied the Marquis of Ripon, the new Viceroy of India, to that country as his private secretary. He resigned almost immediately, and was invited to China to advise the Chinese Government in connection with their then strained relations with Russia. Gordon accepted at once, and although difficulties were raised by the home authorities, he reached Hongkong on July 2d, and went on by Shanghai and Chefoo to Tientsin to meet his old friend, Li Hung Chang, who, with Prince Kung, headed the peace party. From Tientsin, Gordon went to Pekin, and his wise and disinterested counsels in favor of peace at length carried the day.
In 1881 he went to Mauritius as commanding royal engineer, and while there was promoted major-general. In 1882, he was at the Cape Colony, endeavoring to arrange a peace with the natives of Basutoland; but he failed, largely through the treachery of the Cape officials.
The success of the Mahdi in the Soudan and the catastrophe to Hicks Pasha, in November, 1883, had induced the British Government, not only to decline any military assistance to enable the Egyptian Government to hold the Soudan, but to insist upon its abandonment by the khedive. To do this it was necessary to bring away the garrisons scattered all over the country, and such of the Egyptian population as might object to remain. To Gordon was intrusted the withdrawal of the garrisons and the evacuation of the Soudan. At Cairo his functions were considerably extended. He was appointed, with the consent of the British Government, governor-general of the Soudan, and was instructed, not only to effect the evacuation of the country, but to take steps to leave behind an organized independent government.
By the month of March, having succeeded in sending some two thousand five hundred people down the Nile into safety, Gordon found himself getting hemmed in by the Mahdi and no assistance coming from without. On April 16, 1884, his last telegram before the wires were cut complained bitterly of the neglect of the Government. The attack of Khartoum began on March 12th, and from that time to its fall Gordon carried on the defence with consummate skill. His resources were small, his troops few, and his European assistants could be counted on the fingers of one hand; yet he managed to convert his river steamers into iron-clads, to build new ones, to make and lay down land mines, to place wire entanglements, and to execute frequent sorties, while he kept up the spirits and courage of his followers by striking medals in honor of their bravery, and baffled a fanatic and determined foe for over ten months, during the latter part of which the people who trusted him were perishing from disease and famine, and the grip of the enemy was tightening.
In April the necessity of a relief expedition was pressed upon the Government at home, but without avail. In May popular feeling found vent, not only in public meetings but in the House of Commons, when a vote of censure on the Government was lost by only twenty-eight votes. Eventually, proposals were made to send a relief expedition from Cairo in the autumn, and on August 5th a vote of credit for #300,000 was taken for "operations for the relief of General Gordon, should it become necessary, and to make certain preparations in respect thereof." Even when it was decided that Lord Wolseley should take command of a relief expedition up the Nile, hesitation continued to mark the proceedings of the Government, and time, so valuable on account of the rising of the Nile, was lost. It was September 1st before Lord Wolseley was able to leave England. Then everything was done, but the delay had been fatal.
In September, 1884, having driven the rebels out of Berber, Gordon authorized his companions, Colonel Stewart and Frank Power (Times correspondent), to go down the river in the steamer Abbas to open communication with Dongola. The steamer struck on a rock, and they were both treacherously murdered. Gordon was now the only Englishman in Khartoum. On December 20th, Lord Wolseley launched Sir Herbert Stewart's expedition from Korti across the desert to Metemmeh, where, after two severe engagements, it arrived on January 20, 1885, under command of Sir Charles Wilson, Stewart having been mortally wounded. In order to succor the advancing force, Gordon had deprived himself for three months of five out of his seven steamers. These five steamers, fully armed, equipped, and provisioned, were in waiting, and in them were his diaries and letters up to December 14th. On that date he wrote to Major Watson, R.E., at Cairo, that he thought the game was up, and a catastrophe might be expected in ten days' time, and sent his adieux to all. On the same day he wrote to his sister: "I am quite happy, thank God, and like Lawrence, I have tried to do my duty." His diary ended on the same day with: "I have done the best for the honor of my country. Good-by." It was necessary for the safety of his troops that Wilson should first make a reconnoissance down the river toward Berber before going to Khartoum, and when he started up the river, on January 24th, the difficulties of navigation were so great that it was midday on the 28th before the goal was reached, and then only to find it in the hands of the Mahdi, Khartoum having fallen early on the 26th, after a siege of 317 days.
From the most accurate information since obtained, it appears that the garrison, early in January, had been reduced to great straits for want of food, and great numbers of the inhabitants had availed themselves of Gordon's permission to join the Mahdi. Omdurman, opposite to Khartoum, on the west bank of the river, fell about January 13th, and about the 18th a sortie was made, in which some serious fighting took place. The state of the garrison then grew desperate. Gordon continually visited the posts by night as well as day, and encouraged the famished garrison. The news of Sir Herbert Stewart's expedition, and the successful engagements it had fought on the way to Metemmeh, determined the Mahdi to storm Khartoum before reinforcements could arrive for its relief. The attack was made on the south front at 3.30 a.m., on Monday, January 26, 1885. The defence was half-hearted, treachery was at work, and Gordon received no tidings of the assault. The rebels made good their entrance, and then a general massacre ensued. The accounts of Gordon's death are confused and conflicting, but they all agree in stating that he was killed near the gate of the palace, and his head carried to the Mahdi's camp.
Intelligence of the catastrophe reached England on Thursday, February 5th. The outburst of popular grief, not only in this country and her colonies, but also among foreign nations, has hardly been paralleled. It was universally acknowledged that the world had lost a hero. Friday, March 13th, was then observed as a day of national mourning, and special services were held in the cathedrals and in many churches of the land, those at Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's being attended by the royal family, members of both houses of parliament, and representatives of the naval and military services. Parliament voted a national monument to be placed in Trafalgar Square, and a sum of #20,000 to his relatives. More general expression was given to the people's admiration of Gordon's character by the institution of the "Gordon Boys' Home" for homeless and destitute boys. Gordon's sister presented to the town of Southampton her brother's library, in March, 1889.
Gordon's character was unique. Simple-minded, modest, and almost morbidly retiring, he was fearless and outspoken when occasion required. Strong in will and prompt in action, with a naturally hot temper, he was yet forgiving to a fault. Somewhat brusque in manner, his disposition was singularly sympathetic and attractive, winning all hearts. Weakness and suffering at once enlisted his interest. Caring nothing for what was said of him, he was indifferent to praise or reward, and had a supreme contempt for money. His whole being was dominated by a Christian faith, at once so real and so earnest that, although his religious views were tinged with mysticism, the object of his life was the entire surrender of himself to work out whatever he believed to be the will of God.
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