CHAPTER XX. THE TAEPING REBELLION
The Futai Li, in order to test his obedience, proposed that Burgevine and his men should be sent round by sea to Nankin to take part in the siege of that city. The ships were actually prepared for their conveyance, and the Taotai Wou, who had first fitted out a fleet against the rebels, was in readiness to accompany Burgevine, when Li and his colleague, as suspicious of Burgevine's compliance as they would have been indignant at his refusal, changed their plans and countermanded the expedition. Instead of carrying out this project, therefore, they laid a number of formal complaints before General Staveley as to Burgevine's conduct, and requested the English government to remove him from his command, and to appoint an English officer in his place. The charges against Burgevine did not at this time amount to more than a certain laxness in regard to the expenditure of the force, a disregard for the wishes and prejudices of the Chinese government, and the want of tact, or of the desire to conciliate, in his personal relations with the Futai. If Burgevine had resigned, all would have been well, but he regarded the position from the standpoint of the adventurer who believes that his own interests form a supreme law and are the highest good. As commander of the Ever-Victorious Army he was a personage to be considered even by foreign governments. He would not voluntarily surrender the position which alone preserved him from obscurity. Having come to this decision it was clear that even the partial execution of his plans must draw him into many errors of judgment which could not but imbitter the conflict. The reply of the English commander was to the effect that personally he could not interfere, but that he would refer the matter to London as well as to Mr. Bruce at Pekin. In consequence of the delay thus caused the project of removing the force to Nankin was revived, and, the steamers having been chartered, Burgevine was requested to bring down his force from Sunkiang and to embark it at Shanghai. This he expressed his willingness to do on payment of his men, who were two months in arrear, and on the settlement of all outstanding claims, Burgevine was supported by his troops. Whatever his dislike to the proposed move, theirs was immeasurably greater. They refused to move without the payment of all arrears; and on January 2 they even went so far as to openly mutiny. Two days later Burgevine went to Shanghai and had an interview with Takee. The meeting was stormy. Burgevine used personal violence toward the Shanghai merchant, whose attitude was at first overbearing, and he returned to his exasperated troops with the money, which he carried off by force. The Futai Li, on hearing of the assault on Takee, hastened to General Staveley to complain of Burgevine's gross insubordination in striking a mandarin, which by the law of China was punishable with death. Burgevine was dismissed the Chinese service, and the notice of this removal was forwarded by the English general, with a recommendation to him to give up his command without disturbance. This Burgevine did, for the advice of the English general was equivalent to a command, and on January 6, 1863, Burgevine was back at Shanghai. Captain Holland was then placed in temporary command, while the answer of the home government was awaited to General Staveley's proposition to intrust the force to the care of a young captain of engineers, named Charles Gordon. Chung Wang returned at this moment to Soochow, and in Kiangsu the cause of the Taepings again revived through his energy. In February a detachment of Holland's force attacked Fushan, but met with a check, when the news of a serious defeat at Taitsan, where the former Futai Sieh had been defeated, compelled its speedy retreat to Sunkiang. Li had some reason to believe that Taitsan would surrender on the approach of the imperialists, and he accordingly sent a large army, including 2,500 of the contingent, to attack it. The affair was badly managed. The assaulting party was stopped by a wide ditch; neither boats nor ladders arrived. The Taepings fired furiously on the exposed party, several officers were killed, and the men broke into confusion. The heavy guns stuck in the soft ground and had to be abandoned; and despite the good conduct of the contingent the Taepings achieved a decisive success (February 13). Chung Wang was able to feel that his old luck had not deserted him, and the Taepings of Kiangsu recovered all their former confidence in themselves and their leader. This disaster inflicted a rude blow on the confidence of Li and his assistants; and it was resolved that nothing should be attempted until the English officer, at last appointed, had assumed the active command.