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Tientsin: Relief of the Beseiged Europeans, 24 June 1900

TIENTSIN, CHINA, June 28, 1900.

SIR: I have the honor to report that, having been ordered from Manila to report to the second in command of the squadron, I arrived with 101 men and 5 officers off Taku on the 18th instant, meeting a small detachment of 30 men sent forward by the Nashville, the entire force amounting to 131 men.

          Having received instructions from the rear admiral commanding to land and cooperate with the powers, to move forward with the first column of relief for the besieged city of Tientsin, I landed on the 19th instant and proceeded to a short distance from Tong Ku, moving to that place on the early morning of June 20. During the day I constructed a train, with the very valuable assistance of Captain Wise, of the Monocacy, and proceeded up the railroad, carrying a construction car with me. We succeeded in repairing the track and opening communication to a point about 18 miles from Tong Ku and about 12 miles from Tientsin. Finding the road impassable, I put a 3- inch gun on the track and bivouacked for the night at that point. The understanding was at 11 o'clock at night that we would hold that position until reenforcements arrived the next afternoon. With that understanding, I turned in. At 2 in the morning the Russian colonel informed me that he would push on with his 400 men and attempt to get into Tientsin and aid in the defense of the city. I objected, but was overruled in council. My reason told me that there was a slim chance of passing the Chinese force with only 530 men and no guns; the 3-inch rifle proving defective, I disabled it and rolled it into the river, and followed the Russians in the 12-mile march on Tientsin. The Russian column was in advance, 400 strong, with my 6-millimeter gun (Colt) in their front under the command of Lieutenant Powell. The advance continued until 7 a.m. without opposition, when we reached a point opposite the imperial arsenal. There we met a small flank fire, which was quickly silenced by our sharpshooters. About two minutes later we met a very heavy front and flank fire from 1,500 to 2,000 men intrenched. We deployed, and my line, feeling the flank fire, turned to the left and rear, confronting the flank movement, our line at that time having its front advanced and right and flank refused. We held the position for some time, when the Russian force began to fall back and form on our right at a distance of about one-half mile. This movement again brought the fire of the enemy on our left flank. The support of the Colt gun having dwindled to two men and the gun having jammed several times, all the crew being shot down but one, Mr. Powell very properly decided to abandon it, which he did after disabling the gun. Receiving notice that the Russians would retreat to a point 4 miles beyond our bivouac, I began my retreat, moving by the right flank and keeping up a light fire four hours with the enemy, who were in force, imperial troops and Boxers. We succeeded in falling back, bringing our wounded by hand. At 2 p.m. we had reached our bases, having marched 30 miles and fought for five hours. I was obliged to leave the dead, but brought off the wounded. Our casualties were 4 killed and 9 wounded.

          At about 5 p.m. a force of English and Russians arrived, and I decided to act in cooperation with the British, under Commander Craddock.

          On the following day we moved as far as railhead, our bivouac of the day before, where we camped for the night. The force amounted at this time to about 2,000 men, 1,000 being Russian and the rest English, German, American, Italian, and Japanese, in strength in order mentioned, the British being about 600 strong. It was agreed that we should advance in two columns on the next day at 4 a.m., my force occupying the advance of the British column and the right of the firing line. We struck the enemy at about 7 a.m. and drove them steadily until about 12.30 p.m., when we entered Tientsin, relieving the besieged Europeans, our losses being for the day 1 killed and 3 wounded. The Russian column deflected from the scene of our defeat two days previously and followed us into Tientsin. We rested for the remainder of the day, and at 12.30 a.m. the next morning, June 25, moved to the relief of Vice-Admiral Seymour, Captain McCalla, and the men of the powers who had been forced back from their march on Pekin to the relief of the ministers and intrenched at a point about 8 miles from Tientsin. We met very little opposition, and succeeded in relieving at 12 a.m., our casualties being 2 wounded from shell fire, 1 bullet wound. The force relieved had, by a brilliant charge and without knowing what they had opposed to them, succeeded in capturing one of the most important arsenals in China, the place being filled with a plentiful supply of all sorts of munitions of war. Capt. B.H. McCalla was in command of our forces, and was still on his feet, although suffering from three wounds. We moved the sick and wounded from the arsenal on the evening of the 25th, and encamped on the opposite side of the river for the night. At 4 a.m. the following day, June 26, we moved back to Tientsin with the sick and wounded of the besieged, the march being very slow on account of the large number of disabled men. Captain McCalla left me in charge of the combined force of American seamen and marines.

          At noon on the 27th, the Russians having attacked the arsenal, the scene of my repulse on the 22d, and which had not been captured, asked for reenforcements. I sent out Second Lieutenant Jolly with 40 men, Mr. Harding, my adjutant, going as a volunteer, and placed the whole under the command of Commander Craddock, R.N. This force was about 1,800 strong, and succeeded in driving the enemy from the parapets out of their fortifications and in full flight. It was developed that the enemy had about 7,000 men at this point. Our men charged over the parapet with a
British company, being the first in this part of the fight. Our loss here was 1 wounded and Lieutenant Jolly overcome with heat, but not until after he had brought his men back to their quarters. Lieutenant Harding acted as a volunteer and captured an imperial flag, which he presented to me. To-day we are resting, sending away the wounded, and getting ready for a march on Pekin. My effective strength is now about 89. Having given you the bare facts, I now wish to invite attention to the incidents of the busy week.

          Our men have marched 97 miles in the five days, fighting all the way. They have lived on about one meal a day for about six days, but have been cheerful and willing always. They have gained the highest praise from all present, and have earned my love and confidence. They are like Falstaff's army in appearance, but with brave hearts and bright weapons.

          Our uniform is utterly unfit for this service. The trousers last about two days, and the blue shirts make a splendid target all the more marked when we are on the firing line with khaki, for these men have asked the Admiral to cable for more men and stores for the march on Pekin.

          Captains Myers and Hall and the marines under them are besieged at Pekin. As soon as sufficient forces have arrived with train the forces will move on Pekin. Our force is disgracefully small, considering our interests.

          I have to earnestly recommend to your notice for such reward as you may deem proper the following officers: Lieutenant Smedly D. Butler, for the admirable control of his men in all the fights of the week, for saving a wounded man at the risk of his own life, and under a very severe fire; Lieut A.E. Harding, for conspicuous gallantry in action, for saving wounded at the risk of his own life under a heavy fire; Second Lieut. W.L. Jolly, for the same risk and for leading a fine charge over two parapets in the face of a heavy fire; Lieutenant Leonard, for saving life under fire and for admirable control and direction of the fire; Lieutenant Powell, for working and managing the Colt gun under a fierce fire and without support, after the crew had been shot down; Lieutenant Wynne, for his steadfast courage and encouragement of his men. As for the men, I feel that I can not do them justice. They have made history, marked with blood, if you please, still glorious and brilliant. They were the first in the field, and, please God, they will remain until the last man, woman and child is relieved from the toils of these barbarians. I shall send you the names of special instances in these cases, hoping that a suitable reward may be given them as far as the law allows. For myself, sir, I have only to say that I did my best. I have carried the colors you surrendered to me through each fight. * * * I tried to get into Tientsin to help the besieged. I failed. I lost a gun. If there is any fault it is mine. I only remark that it took 2,000 men with 6 guns to do what I failed to do with 530 without guns. I am awaiting reenforcements asked for, and shall move forward as soon as the combined forces are ready.

          I append a list of casualties to date, not including sick.

          I have also to ask that you urge the Department to thank the British surgeons for their care on the field and in hospital of our wounded; especially do I wish to recommend to the Department's notice the services of Robley H. J. Brown, R.N., H.M.S. Alacrity. So sure was his service and search of the field that we were enabled to get all rifles on the firing line with the sure knowledge that the dead and wounded would be attended to. We had no surgeon or medical supplies. The operations under Commander Craddock, R.N., were admirably planned and executed.

          List of casualties to date (inclosed with letter): Killed -- Privates Lannigan, J.K. Miller, Morris, Provensal, and Hunter. Wounded -- Corporals Francis Kates and Hetrick, Sergeant Sullivan (slight), Privates C. S. Smith, Cork, Sullivan, J. J. Bailey, Pennington, Carter, the most serious wound, the thigh being badly fractured.

          We need several carts for transportation. The report received from Pekin to-day is very bad, the runner having left there five days before. All the Europeans were in the English legation, ammunition very short, only three of the legations left standing. Artillery fire would probably be directed against the British legation, in which case the suffering would be terrible.

          There seems small chance of any movement toward Pekin for three weeks.

          Very respectfully,

LITTLETON W.T. WALLER,
Major, U.S.M.C.,Commanding United States Force.

THE BRIGADIER-GENERAL, COMMANDANT,
United States Marines, Washington, D.C.

[First indorsement.]

U.S. FLAGSHIP NEWARK,
Taku, China, July 4, 1900.

          Respectfully forwarded approved, with the request that the valuable and able service of Maj. L.W.T. Waller, U.S.M.C., commanding detachment, receive due attention and proper recognition at the hands of the Department.

          I would suggest a suitable medal for Major Waller, and 5 per cent additional pay for life in various grades he may reach. The other officers and men should receive medals and such other recognition as may be considered suitable by the Department, except to a few men not deserving, and who will be specially reported. Major Waller has been requested to submit a list of the names of these undeserving men.

          I was delighted when the marines landed in the Solace to find that Major Waller was in command, feeling certain that the men would be well cared for and render creditable service. It is with our marines under Major Waller as with the force under Captain McCalla -- foreign officers have only the highest praise for their splendid fighting qualities.

LOUIS KEMPFF,
Rear-Admiral, U.S.N., Senior Squadron Commander, United States Naval Force.

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Source: Navy Department. Annual Report of the Navy Department for the Year 1900 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1900), pp. 1150-52.

13 March 2000