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OF the romantic figures which grace the history of New England in the nineteenth century, none is to be compared in dash and in all those other qualities that captivate the imagination with the figure of Frederick Townsend Ward, the Salem boy who won a generalship in the Chinese military service, suppressed the Tai-Ping rebellion, organised the "Ever-victorious Army" – for whose exploits "Chinese" Gordon always gets credit in history – and died fighting at Ning Po for a nation of which he had become one, a fair daughter of which he had married, and by which he is to-day worshipped as a god. Very far certainly did this soldier of fortune wander in the thirty short years of his life from the peaceful red-brick Townsend mansion (now, alas! a steam bread bakery), at the corner of Derby and Carleton Streets, Salem, in which, in 1831, he was born.
This house was built by Ward's grandfather, Townsend, and during Frederick's boyhood was a charming place of the comfortable colonial sort, to which was joined a big, rambling, old-fashioned garden, and from the upper windows of which there was to be had a fascinating view of the broad-stretching sea. To the sea it was, therefore, that the lad naturally turned when, after ending his education at the Salem High School, he was unable to gain admission to the military academy at West Point and follow the soldier career in which it had always been his ambition to shine. He shipped before the mast on an American vessel sailing from New York. Apparently even the hardships of such a common sailor's lot could not dampen his ardour for adventure, for he made a number of voyages.
At the outbreak of the Crimean war young Ward was in France, and, thinking that his long-looked for opportunity had come, he entered the French army for service against the Russians. Enlisting as a private, he soon, through the influence of friends, rose to be a lieutenant; but, becoming embroiled in a quarrel with his superior officer, he resigned his commission and returned to New York, without having seen service either in Russia or Turkey.
The next few years of the young man's life were passed as a ship broker, in New York City, but this work-a-day career soon became too humdrum, and he looked about for something that promised more adventures. He had not to look far. Colonel William Walker and his filibusters were about to start on the celebrated expedition against Nicaragua, and with them Ward determined to cast in his lot. Through the trial by fire which awaited the ill-fated expedition, he passed unhurt, and escaping by some means or other its fatal termination, returned to New York.
California next attracted his attention, but here he met with no better success, and after a hand-to-mouth existence of a few months he turned again to seafaring life, and shipped for China as the mate of an American vessel. His arrival at Shanghai in 1859 was most opportune, for there the chance for which he had been longing awaited him.
The great Tai-Ping rebellion, that half-Christian, wholly fanatical uprising which devastated many flourishing provinces, had, at this time, attained alarming proportions. Ching Wang, with a host of bloodcrazed rebels, had swept over the country in the vicinity of Shanghai with fire and sword, and at the time of Ward's arrival these fanatics were within eighteen miles of the city.
The Chinese merchants had appealed in vain to the foreign consuls for assistance. The imperial government had made no plans for the preservation of Shanghai. So the wealthy merchants, fearing for their stores, resolved to take, the matter into their own hands, and after a consultation of many days, offered a reward of two hundred thousand dollars to any body of foreigners who should drive the Tai-Pings from the city of Sungkiang.
Salem's soldier of fortune, Frederick T. Ward, responded at once to the opportunity thus offered. He accepted in June, 1860, the offer of Ta Kee, the mandarin at the head of the merchant body, and in less than a week – such was the magnetism of the man – had raised a body of one hundred foreign sailors, and, with an American by the name of Henry Burgevine as his lieutenant, had set out for Sungkiang. The men in Ward's company were desperadoes, for the most part, but they were no match, of course, for the twelve thousand Tai-Pings. This Ward realised as soon as the skirmishing advance had been made, and he returned to Shanghai for reinforcements.
From the Chinese imperial troops he obtained men to garrison whatever courts the foreign legation might capture, an arrangement which left the adventurers free to go wherever their action could be most effective.
Thus reinforced, Ward once more set out for Sungkiang. Even on this occasion his men were outnumbered one hundred to one, but, such was the desperation of the attacking force, the rebels were driven like sheep to the slaughter, and the defeat of the Tai-Pings was overwhelming. It was during this battle, it is interesting to know, that the term "foreign devils" first found place in the Chinese vocabulary.
The promised reward was forthwith presented to the gifted American soldier, and immediately ward accepted a second commission against the rebels at Singpo. The Tai-Pings of this city were under the leadership of a renegade Englishman named Savage, and the fighting was fast and furious. Ward and his men performed many feats of valour, and actually sealed the city wall, thirty feet in height, to fight like demons upon its top. But it was without avail. With heavy losses, they were driven back.
But the attempt was not abandoned. Retiring to Shanghai, Ward secured the assistance of about one hundred new foreign recruits, and with them returned once more to the scene of his defeat. Half a mile from the walls of Singpo the little band of foreign soldiers of fortune and poorly organised imperial troops were met by Savage and the Tai-Pings, and the battle that resulted waged for hours. The rebels were the aggressors, and ten miles of Ward's retreat upon Sungkiang saw fighting every inch of the way. The line of retreat was strewn with rebel dead, and such were their losses that they retired from the province altogether.
Later Savage was killed, and the Tai-Pings quieted down. For his exploits ward received the monetary rewards agreed upon, and was also granted the button of a mandarin of the fourth degree.
He had received severe wounds during the campaigns, and was taking time to recuperate from them at Shanghai when the jealousy of other foreigners made itself felt, and the soldier from Salem was obliged to face a charge before the United States consul that he had violated the neutrality laws. The matter was dropped, however, because the hero of Sungkiang promptly swore that he was no longer an American citizen, as he had become a naturalised subject of the Chinese emperor!
Realising the value of the Chinese as fighting men, ward now determined to organise a number of Chinese regiments, officer them with Europeans, and arm and equip them after American methods. This he did, and in six months he appeared at Shanghai at the head of three bodies of Chinese, splendidly drilled and under iron discipline. He arrived in the nick of time, and, routing a vastly superior force, saved the city from capture.
After this exploit he was no langer shunned by Europeans as an adventurer and an outlaw. He was too prominent to be overlooked. His Ever-Victorious Army; as it was afterward termed, entered upon a campaign of glorious victory. One after another of the rebel strongholds fell before it, and its leader was made a mandarin of the highest grade, with the title of admiral-general.
Ward then assumed the Chinese name of Hwa, and married Changmei, a maiden of high degree, who was nineteen at the time of her wedding, and as the daughter of one of the richest and most exalted mandarins of the red button, was considered in China an exceedingly good match for the Salem youth. According to oriental standards she was a beauty, too.
Ward did not rest long from his campaigns, however, for we find that he was soon besieged in the city, of Sungkiang with a few men. A relieving force of the Ever-Victorious Army here came to his assistance.
He did not win all his victories easily. In the battle of Ningpo, toward the end of the first division of the Tai-Ping rebellion, the carnage was frightful. Outnumbered, but not out-generalled, the government forces fought valiantly. Ward was shot through the. stomach while leading a charge, but refused to leave the field while the battle was on. Through his field officers he directed his men, and when the victory was assured, fell back unconscious in the arms of his companion, Burgevine. He was carried to Ningpo, where he died the following morning, a gallant and distinguished soldier, although still only thirty years old.
In the Confucian cemetery at Ningpo his body was laid at rest with all possible honours and with military ceremony becoming his rank. Over his grave, and that of his young wife, who survived him only a few months, a mausoleum was erected, and monuments were placed on the scenes of his victories. The mausoleum soon became a shrine invested with miraculous power, and a number of years after his death General Ward was solemnly declared to be a joss or god. The manuscript of the imperial edict to this effect is now preserved in the Essex Institute.
The command of the Ever-Victorious Army reverted to Burgevine, but later, through British intrigue, to General Gordon. It was Ward, however, the Salem lad, who organised the army by which Chinese Gordon gained his fame. The British made a saint and martyr of Gordon, and called Ward an adventurer and a common sailor, but the Chinese rated him more nearly as he deserved.
In a little red-bound volume printed in Shanghai in 1863, and translated from the Chinese for the benefit of a few of General Ward's relatives in this country – a work which I have been permitted to examine – the native chronicler says of our hero:
"What General Ward has done to and for China is as yet but imperfectly known, for those whose duty it is to transfer to posterity a record of this great man are either so wrapped in speculation as to how to build themselves up on his deeds of the past time, or are so fearful that any comment on any subject regarding him may detract from their ability, that with his last breath they allow all that appertains to him to be buried in the tomb. Not one in ten thousand of them could at all approach him in military genius, in courage, and in resource, or do anything like what he did."
In his native land Ward has never been honoured as he deserves to be. On the contrary, severe criticism has been accorded him because he was fighting in China for money during our civil war, "when," said his detractors, "he might have been using his talents for the protection of the flag under which he was born."
But this was the fault of circumstances rather than of intention. Ward wished, above everything, to be a soldier, and when he found fighting waiting for him in China, it was the most natural thing in the world for him to accept the opportunity the gods provided. But he did what he could under the circumstances for his country. He offered ten thousand dollars to the national cause – and was killed in the Chinese war before the answer to his proffer of financial aid came from Minister Anson Burlingame.
It is rather odd that just the amount that he wished to be used by the North for the advancement of the Union cause has recently (1901) been bequeathed to the Essex Institute at Salem by Miss Elizabeth C. Ward, his lately deceased sister, to found a Chinese library in memory of Salem's soldier of fortune. Thus is rounded out this very romantic chapter of modern American history.
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