Third Battle of Nanking

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Third Battle of Nanking
Part of the Taiping Rebellion
Date March 14, 1864 – July 19, 1864
Location Nanking, China
Result Qing victory
Belligerents
Qing dynasty Qing Dynasty Taiping Heavenly Kingdom
Commanders and leaders
Qing dynasty Zeng Guofan
Qing dynasty Zeng Guoquan
Hong Xiuquan
Li Xiucheng
Strength
500,000+ Xiang Army 370,000 defenders + 30,000 hungry weakened troops
Casualties and losses
10,000+ died of illness
9,000+ killed
200,000+ killed
200,000+ surrendered
100,000 Taiping troops were killed in the last 3 days of the battle

The Third Battle of Nanking was the last major engagement of the Taiping Rebellion, occurring in 1864 after the death of the king of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, Hong Xiuquan. There were probably more than a million troops in the battle and the Taiping army sustained 100,000 dead (and many more wounded) in the three day clash. Following the defeat of the Taiping army the Imperial troops, commanded by Zeng Guofan, slaughtered much of the city's population. Nanking had been the capital of the Heavenly Kingdom and was known by the Taipings as Tianjing (Heavenly Capital - the name should not be confused with Tianjin, China's third largest city). This battle was the effective end of the Taiping army and the last major Taiping city to fall back under Imperial control.

Prelude[edit]

In June, 1863, Imperial Chinese army General Bao Chao (鲍超) took Jiufu Island (Jiu Fu Zhou, 九洑洲) and the Taiping Army had lost the control of the entire northern shore of the Yangtze River, and Imperial general Bao Chao (鲍超) subsequently led his force across the Yangtze River and camped on the southern bank of Yangtze River outside the Shence (神策) Gate of Nanking. In September, 1863, Zeng Guofan's younger brother, a general of Imperial Army, General Zeng Guoquan (曾国荃) led his force attacked and took Upward Bridge (Shangfangqiao 上方桥) region to the southeast of the city and Eastern Riverine Bridge (Jiangdonqiao 江东桥) region to the southwest of the city. General Zeng Guoquan (曾国荃) continued his quest in the suburbs of Nanking and by early November, 1863, he had succeeded in taking regions including Upward Gate (Shangfangmen 上方门), High Bridge Gate (Gaoqiaomen 高桥门), Twin Bridge Gate (Shuangqiaomen 双桥门), Seventh Bridge Jar (Qiqiaoweng 七桥瓮), Muling (秣陵) Pass, and Central Peace Bridge (Zhongheqiao 中和桥). The Taiping Army had therefore lost all of its positions in the southwestern part of Purple Gold (紫金) Mountain. By mid November, regions including Chunhua (淳化), Jiexi (解溪), Longdu (龙都), Hushu (湖熟), Tree Branches Town (Sanchazhen 三岔镇) had fallen under the Imperial Chinese army's control. At the same time, the Imperial navy commanded by Imperial admiral Peng Yulin (彭玉麟) and his deputy, Yang Yuebin (杨岳斌, also known as Yang Zaifu 杨载福) took important regions including Gaochun (高淳) and Eastern Dam (Dong Ba 东坝) with the help of Imperial General Bao Chao (鲍超)'s forces. By late November, the Taiping garrison at Lishui (溧水) had surrendered to Imperial Chinese army. As a result,the Taiping army was evicted from the vast region within 50 miles of Nanking. On November 25, 1863, General Zeng Guoquan (曾国荃) and his subordinate, general Xiao Qingyan (萧庆衍) deployed troops at Piety Tomb (Xiaoling 孝陵). The only links to the outside left were the Shengce (神策) Gate and Taiping (太平) Gate.

On December 20, 1863, Li Xiucheng returned to Nanking from Danyang and urged Hong Xiuquan to abandon the Taiping capital the very next day. However, this suggestion was not accepted by Hong Xiuquan, who took overall command of the operation. Hong declared that anyone who disobeyed him and God would be immediately executed. This doomed the Taiping army and Nanking by creating widespread discontent, and coupled with other factors, eventually, over 200,000 Taiping troops went out of Nanking and surrendered to the Imperial Chinese army during the entire course of the battle. For those who refused to surrender but were also upset by Hong's decisions, chose to break out while they still could, when the siege was still incomplete. Hong, Li and others were unable to stop such acts. On February 28, 1864, Tianbao (天保) Castle at the highest peak of Purple Gold (紫金) Mountain fell under the Imperial Chinese army's control. On March 2, 1864, Imperial general Zeng Guoquan (曾国荃) deployed his troops to Shengce (神策) Gate and Taiping (太平) Gate, the siege of Nanking was completed.

The battle[edit]

On March 14, 1864, Imperial general Zeng Guoquan (曾国荃) attempted his first attack on Nanking using ladders, but this first attempt was beaten back by the defenders. The imperial army then changed tactics, digging a total of ten underground tunnels at Chaoyang (朝阳), Shence (神策), and Jinchuan (金川) Gates, and the defenders in turn, countered by digging tunnels of their own and building a secondary wall behind the first. Five days after the death of Hong Xiuquan on June 1, 1864, Li Xiucheng was finally put in charge of all military and political affairs, but it was already too late, the fate of the city and its defenders were sealed.

On July 3, 1864, Dibao Castle (Dibao Cheng 地保城, nicknamed Dragon's Neck 龙脖子) on Purple Gold (紫金) Mountain fell into the Imperial Chinese army's hands. This strategic location enabled the Imperial Chinese army to build several dozen artillery positions to bombard the entire city, thus suppressing the defenders' firepower and providing cover for other preparations to take the city. One tactic of the attackers was to fill the space between the city wall and the mountain ridge at the Dragon's Neck with earth, sand, logs, rocks and grass, so the land surface was raised to the height of the city wall, thus paving the way to attack the city. Another tactic was to dig underground tunnels just 200 feet away from the city wall so that they could be filled with explosives to blow up the wall. Operations within such close proximity of enemy fire were possible due to sufficient covering fire, thanks to the taking of Dibao Castle. The defenders's attempts to disrupt the preparations were continuously beaten back with heavy loss due to heavy fire from attackers. Half a month later, the preparation was complete.

Realizing the final attack was coming, on the night of July 18, 1864, Li Xiucheng ordered more than a thousand defenders to disguise themselves as attackers to sneak out of the city to destroy the tunnel, but the attackers were not fooled and beat back the thousand-man formation. The following afternoon at 13:00, the attackers detonated the explosives in the tunnel under Taiping (太平) Gate, the wall breaking and flying 2—10 km far down, killing several hundred people, and collapsing a large section of the city wall. The defenders put up a fierce fight, but were unable to drive back the attacking force of 60,000. The attackers were divided into four fronts after entering Nanking as previously planned:

  • The central front led by imperial general Li Chenden (李臣典) attacked toward Hong Xiuquan's palace
  • The right front led by imperial general 刘连捷 (Liu Lianjie) pushed toward Shence (神策) gate to link up with imperial general Zhu Nangui (朱南桂)'s force who entered the gate via ladders, and after two teams had joined forces, they would attack westward toward Lion Mountain (Shizishan 狮子山) to take Yifeng (仪凤) Gate.
  • The central-left front led by imperial general Peng Yuju (彭毓橘) attacked toward Tongji (通济) Gate.
  • The left front led by imperial general Xiao Fusi (萧孚泗) attacked toward Chaoyang (朝阳) and Hongwu (洪武) gates.

The street fight was fierce and bloody and the resistance was much tougher than expected. The attackers' artillery cover had to stop for fear of injuring their own. The defenders were very stubborn and expected to inflict heavy casualties on the attackers and hoped to drive the attackers back outside the city.

After the fall of Chaoyang (朝阳) Gate, the defenders' morale collapsed and imperial general Luo Fengyan (罗逢源) was able to lead his force to break into the city from Jubao (聚宝) Gate, while imperial general Li Jinzhou (李金洲) was able to break into the city from (通济) Gate, linking up with forces led by imperial general Peng Yuju (彭毓橘). At the same time, imperial admiral Huang Yisheng (黄翼升) led the imperial navy to take Zhongguan (中关) and then took the remaining fortresses still in the defenders' hands at the river banks, and helped imperial general Chen Ti (陈湜) take two Shuixi (水西) and Hanxi (旱西) gates. By the evening, every gate of the city was firmly in the hands of attackers.

Li Xiucheng immediately returned to Hong Xiuquan's palace after the defeat at the Taiping (太平) Gate in the morning, and took Hong Xiuquan's son with him to escape via Hanxi (旱西) gate. However, Li's force of several thousand were beaten back with heavy loss by the imperial general Chen Ti (陈湜) force and was forced to go to Cool Mountain (Qingliang Shan 清凉山). At night, Li Xiucheng's remaining force of a thousand went to Taiping (太平) Gate and disguised themselves as Imperial Chinese Army forces, and successfully escaped toward Piety Tomb (Xiaoling 孝陵) via the section of collapsed city wall because the imperial Chinese army troops were busy looting, and did not bother to stop them. After massive looting, the city was set on fire which lasted till July 26, 1864.

Aftermath[edit]

Li Xiucheng did not get far after his initial breakout. Imperial general Zeng Guoquan (曾国荃) sent out a cavalry force of 700 after his force and Li lost contact with Hong Xiuquan's son. Most of Taiping army's commanders failed to escape: Lie (列) King Li Wangcai (李万材) was captured on July 21, 1864 at Chunhua (淳化) Town, while Zhang (章) Lin Shaozhang (林绍璋) and Junior Western King (幼西王) Xiao Youhe (萧友和) was killed at Hushu (湖熟) Town on the same day. On July 22, 1864, Li Xiucheng himself was captured alive near Square Mountain (Fangshan 方山). On July 28, 1864, the overall commander of the battle, Zeng Guofan reached Nanking from Anqing and ordered Li to write his confession, and Li was executed after the completion on August 7, 1864. Only Zun (遵) King Lai Wenguang (赖文光) succeeded in breaking out with his 3,000 cavalry to eventually join the and lead Nien Rebellion to fight for another four years.

The success of the Imperial Chinese Army was partially due to the advanced weaponry adopted, namely, the firearms. 1864 was the year when the first Chinese indigenously built bolt-action single-shot rifle appeared, and although the number was extremely few, they proved themselves over other firearms, and certainly over ancient weapons such as swords, sabres, spears and lances. The third battle of Nanking was a testing ground for the first modern Chinese firearms used in the battle.

References[edit]