Charles Gordon

Charles George Gordon
Charles George Gordon

Charles George Gordon was a British army officer. His famous early exploits in China between 1862 and 1864 earned him the name “Chinese Gordon,” while his later actions and death in Khartoum, the Sudan, gained him the epithet “Gordon of Khartoum.”

Gordon was trained as an army engineer and saw action in the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny. He was sent to China in 1860 and took part in the capture of Beijing (Peking) in the second Anglo-Chinese War. In 1862 he was sent to Shanghai, China’s premier port of international trade. Southern

China was then in the throes of the serious Taiping Rebellion (1850–64), centered in Nanjing (Nanking), the rebel capital. In 1860 the army of the Taiping Loyal King threatened Shanghai. To defend themselves the rich merchants of the city commissioned Frederick Ward, an American adventurer, to organize a mercenary army.

With soldiers recruited from among Western deserters, Ward’s rifle squadron captured Sunjiang (Sunkiang), a town near Shanghai, and turned back the rebels. In 1861 Ward recruited 100 European officers and expanded his force with 4,000–5,000 Chinese and 200 Filipino soldiers, whom he armed and drilled in the Western fashion.

This force won many battles and repulsed another attack on Shanghai in 1862, for which the Chinese government named it the Ever-Victorious Army. After Ward died of wounds in 1862, another American, Henry A. Burgevine, was named commander, but he was soon relieved from command due to the many problems he caused.

Gordon was next appointed to lead this army with British government permission. He served under the overall command of Li Hongzhang (Li Hung-chang), governor of Jiangsu (Kiangsu) Province, in which both Nanjing and Shanghai were located. Between 1862 and 1864 the Ever Victorious Army fought in 33 actions against the Taipings.

Gordon’s most famous victory was taking Suzhou (Soochow), an important city between Nanjing and Shanghai, from the rebels. The Taiping Rebellion ended in 1864 with the capture of Nanjing and the suicide of the rebel leader.

The Qing (Ch’ing) government rewarded Gordon with the rank of general, which entitled him to wear the Yellow Jacket (equivalent of a high military decoration). With the end of the rebellion, the Ever Victorious Army was disbanded, and Gordon returned to England for reassignment by the British army.

The Ever Victorious Army was important, because it was the first Chinese fighting force to use Western firearms and training; its effectiveness showed the superiority of Western military techniques and technology.

Gordon was stationed in Britain until 1871 and then undertook tours of duty overseas, mainly in Egypt and the Sudan. In 1884 the British government sent him to the Sudan to extricate the Egyptian garrison (Egypt claimed overlordship over the Sudan) from the forces of the Mahdi, a Sudanese religious leader in revolt against the Egyptians.

Gordon’s small force was besieged in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, by the forces of the Mahdi and was killed two days before a British relief force arrived on January 22, 1885. In death, this colorful British officer who had earlier earned the name “Chinese Gordon” became known as “Gordon of Khartoum.”