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The Japanese-Russian War

BATTLES I DID NOT SEE


We knew it was a battle because the Japanese officers told us it was. In other wars I had seen other battles, many sorts of battles, but I had never seen a battle like that one. Most battles are noisy, hurried, and violent, giving rise to an unnatural thirst and to the delusion that, by some unhappy coincidence, every man on the other side is shooting only at you. This delusion is not peculiar to myself. Many men have told me that in the confusion of battle they always get this exaggerated idea of their own importance. Down in Cuba I heard a colonel inform a group of brother officers that a Spanish field-piece had marked him for its own, and for an hour had been pumping shrapnel at him and at no one else. The interesting part of the story was that he believed it.

But the battle of Anshantien was in no way disquieting. It was a noiseless, odorless, rubber-tired battle. So far as we were concerned it consisted of rings of shrapnel smoke floating over a mountain pass many miles distant. So many miles distant that when, with a glass, you could see a speck of fire twinkle in the sun like a heliograph, you could not tell whether it was the flash from the gun or the flame from the shell. Neither could you tell whether the cigarette rings issued from the lips of the Japanese guns or from those of the Russians. The only thing about that battle of which you were certain was that it was a perfectly safe battle to watch. It was the first one I ever witnessed that did not require you to calmly smoke a pipe in order to conceal the fact that you were scared. But soothing as it was, the battle lacked what is called the human interest. There may have been men behind the guns, but as they were also behind Camel Hill and Saddle Mountain, eight miles away, our eyes, like those of Mr. Samuel Weller, "being only eyes," were not able to discover them.

Our teachers, the three Japanese officers who were detailed to tell us about things we were not allowed to see, gazed at the scene of carnage with well-simulated horror. Their expressions of countenance showed that should any one move the battle eight miles nearer, they were prepared to sell their lives dearly. When they found that none of us were looking at them or their battle, they were hurt. The reason no one was looking at them was because most of us had gone to sleep. The rest, with a bitter experience of Japanese promises, had doubted there would be a battle, and had prepared themselves with newspapers. And so, while eight miles away the preliminary battle to Liao-Yang was making history, we were lying on the grass reading two months' old news of the St. Louis Convention.

The sight greatly disturbed our teachers.

"You complain," they said, "because you are not allowed to see anything, and now, when we show you a battle, you will not look."

Lewis, of the Herald, eagerly seized his glasses and followed the track of the Siberian railway as it disappeared into the pass.

"I beg your pardon, but I didn't know it was a battle," he apologized politely. "I thought it was a locomotive at Anshantien Station blowing off steam."

And, so, teacher gave him a bad mark for disrespect.

It really was trying.

In order to see this battle we had travelled half around the world, had then waited four wasted months at Tokio, then had taken a sea voyage of ten days, then for twelve days had ridden through mud and dust in pursuit of the army, then for twelve more days, while battles raged ten miles away, had been kept prisoners in a compound where five out of the eighteen correspondents were sick with dysentery or fever, and finally as a reward we were released from captivity and taken to see smoke rings eight miles away! That night a round-robin, which was signed by all, was sent to General Oku, pointing out to him that unless we were allowed nearer to his army than eight miles, our usefulness to the people who paid us our salaries was at an end.

While waiting for an answer to this we were led out to see another battle. Either that we might not miss one minute of it, or that we should be too sleepy to see anything of it, we were started in black darkness, at three o'clock in the morning, the hour, as we are told, when one's vitality is at its lowest, and one which should be reserved for the exclusive use of burglars and robbers of hen roosts. Concerning that hour I learned this, that whatever its effects may be upon human beings, it finds a horse at his most strenuous moment. At that hour by the light of three paper lanterns we tried to saddle eighteen horses, donkeys, and ponies, and the sole object of each was to kick the light out of the lantern nearest him. We finally rode off through a darkness that was lightened only by a gray, dripping fog, and in a silence broken only by the patter of rain upon the corn that towered high above our heads and for many miles hemmed us in. After an hour, Sataki, the teacher who acted as our guide, lost the trail and Captain Lionel James, of the Times, who wrote "On the Heels of De Wet," found it for him. Sataki, so our two other keepers told us, is an authority on international law, and he may be all of that and know all there is to know of three-mile limits and paper blockades, but when it came to picking up a trail, even in the bright sunlight when it lay weltering beneath his horse's nostrils, we always found that any correspondent with an experience of a few campaigns was of more general use. The trail ended at a muddy hill, a bare sugar-loaf of a hill, as high as the main tent of a circus and as abruptly sloping away. It was swept by a damp, chilling wind; a mean, peevish rain washed its sides, and they were so steep that if we sat upon them we tobogganed slowly downward, ploughing up the mud with our boot heels. Hungry, sleepy, in utter darkness, we clung to this slippery mound in its ocean of whispering millet like sailors wrecked in mid-sea upon a rock, and waited for the day. After two hours a gray mist came grudgingly, trees and rocks grew out of it, trenches appeared at our feet, and what had before looked like a lake of water became a mud village.

Then, like shadows, the foreign attaches, whom we fondly hoped might turn out to be Russian Cossacks coming to take us prisoners and carry us off to breakfast, rode up in silence and were halted at the base of the hill. It seemed now, the audience being assembled, the orchestra might begin. But no hot-throated cannon broke the chilling, dripping, silence, no upheaval of the air spoke of Canet guns, no whirling shrapnel screamed and burst. Instead, the fog rolled back showing us miles of waving corn, the wet rails of the Siberian Railroad glistening in the rain, and, masking the horizon, the same mountains from which the day before the smoke rings had ascended. They now were dark, brooding, their tops hooded in clouds. Somewhere in front of us hidden in the Kiao liang, hidden in the tiny villages, crouching on the banks of streams, concealed in trenches that were themselves concealed, Oku's army, the army to which we were supposed to belong, was buried from our sight. And in the mountains on our right lay the Fourth Army, and twenty miles still farther to the right, Kuroki was closing in upon Liao-Yang. All of this we guessed, what we were told was very different, what we saw was nothing. In all, four hundred thousand men were not farther from us than four to thirty miles--and we saw nothing. We watched as the commissariat wagons carrying food to these men passed us by, the hospital stores passed us by, the transport carts passed us by, the coolies with reserve mounts, the last wounded soldier, straggler, and camp-follower passed us by. Like a big tidal wave Oku's army had swept forward leaving its unwelcome guests, the attaches and correspondents, forty lonely foreigners among seventy thousand Japanese, stranded upon a hill miles in the rear. Perhaps, as war, it was necessary, but it was not magnificent.

That night Major Okabe, our head teacher, gave us the official interpretation of what had occurred. The Russians, he said, had retreated from Liao-Yang and were in open flight. Unless General Kuroki, who, he said, was fifty miles north of us, could cut them off they would reach Mukden in ten days, and until then there would be no more fighting. The Japanese troops, he said, were in Liao-Yang, it had been abandoned without a fight. This he told us on the evening of the 27th of August.

The next morning Major Okabe delivered the answer of General Oku to our round-robin. He informed us that we had been as near to the fighting as we ever would be allowed to go. The nearest we had been to any fighting was four miles. Our experience had taught us that when the Japanese promised us we would be allowed to do something we wanted to do, they did not keep their promise; but that when they said we would not be allowed to do something we wanted to do, they spoke the truth. Consequently, when General Oku declared the correspondents would be held four miles in the rear, we believed he would keep his word. And, as we now know, he did, the only men who saw the fighting that later ensued being those who disobeyed his orders and escaped from their keepers. Those who had been ordered by their papers to strictly obey the regulations of the Japanese, and the military attaches, were kept by Oku nearly six miles in the rear.

On the receipt of Oku's answer to the correspondents, Mr. John Fox, Jr., of Scribner's Magazine, Mr. Milton Prior, of the London Illustrated News, Mr. George Lynch, of the London Morning Chronicle, and myself left the army. We were very sorry to go. Apart from the fact that we had not been allowed to see anything of the military operations, we were enjoying ourselves immensely. Personally, I never went on a campaign in a more delightful country nor with better companions than the men acting as correspondents with the Second Army. For the sake of such good company, and to see more of Manchuria, I personally wanted to keep on. But I was not being paid to go camping with a set of good fellows. Already the Japanese had wasted six months of my time and six months of Mr. Collier's money, Mr. Fox had been bottled up for a period of equal length, while Mr. Prior and Mr. Lynch had been prisoners in Tokio for even four months longer. And now that Okabe assured us that Liao-Yang was already taken, and Oku told us if there were any fighting we would not be allowed to witness it, it seemed a good time to quit.

Other correspondents would have quit then, as most of them did ten days later, but that their work and ours in a slight degree differed. As we were not working for daily papers, we used the cable but seldom, while they used it every day. Each evening Okabe brought them the official account of battles and of the movements of the troops, which news of events which they had not witnessed they sent to their separate papers. But for our purposes it was necessary we should see things for ourselves. For, contrary to the popular accusation, no matter how flattering it may be, we could not describe events at which we were not present.

But what mainly moved us to decide, was the statements of Okabe, the officer especially detailed by the War Office to aid and instruct us, to act as our guide, philosopher, and friend, our only official source of information, who told us that Liao-Yang was occupied by the Japanese and that the Russians were in retreat. He even begged me personally to come with him into Liao-Yang on the 29th and see how it was progressing under the control of the Japanese authorities.

Okabe's news meant that the great battle Kuropatkin had promised at Liao-Yang, and which we had come to see, would never take place.

Why Okabe lied I do not know. Whether Oku had lied to him, or whether it was Baron-General Kodama or Major-General Fukushima who had instructed him to so grossly misinform us, it is impossible to say. While in Tokio no one ever more frequently, nor more unblushingly, made statements that they knew were untrue than did Kodama and Fukushima, but none of their deceptions had ever harmed us so greatly as did the lie they put into the mouth of Okabe. Not only had the Japanese not occupied Liao-Yang on the evening of the 27th of August, but later, as everybody knows, they had to fight six days to get into it. And Kuroki, so far from being fifty miles north toward Mukden as Okabe said he was, was twenty miles to the east on our right preparing for the closing in movement which was just about to begin. Three days after we had left the army, the greatest battle since Sedan was waged for six days.

So our half year of time and money, of dreary waiting, of daily humiliations at the hands of officers with minds diseased by suspicion, all of which would have been made up to us by the sight of this one great spectacle, was to the end absolutely lost to us. Perhaps we made a mistake in judgment. As the cards fell, we certainly did. But after the event it is easy to be wise. For the last fifteen years, had I known as much the night before the Grand Prix was run as I did the next afternoon, I would be passing rich.

The only proposition before us was this: There was small chance of any immediate fighting. If there were fighting we could not see it. Confronted with the same conditions again, I would decide in exactly the same manner. Our misfortune lay in the fact that our experience with other armies had led us to believe that officers and gentlemen speak the truth, that men with titles of nobility, and with the higher titles of general and major-general, do not lie. In that we were mistaken.

The parting from the other correspondents was a brutal attack upon the feelings which, had we known they were to follow us two weeks later to Tokio, would have been spared us. It is worth recording why, after waiting many months to get to the front, they in their turn so soon left it. After each of the big battles before Liao-Yang they handed the despatches they had written for their papers to Major Okabe. Each day he told them these despatches had been censored and forwarded. After three days he brought back all the despatches and calmly informed the correspondents that not one of their cables had been sent. It was the final affront of Japanese duplicity. In recording the greatest battle of modern times three days had been lost, and by a lie. The object of their coming to the Far East had been frustrated. It was fatuous to longer expect from Kodama and his pupils fair play or honest treatment, and in the interest of their employers and to save their own self-respect, the representatives of all the most important papers in the world, the Times, of London, the New York Herald, the Paris Figaro, the London Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, and Morning Post, quit the Japanese army.

Meanwhile, unconscious of what we had missed, the four of us were congratulating ourselves upon our escape, and had started for New-Chwang. Our first halt was at Hai-Cheng, in the same compound in which for many days with the others we had been imprisoned. But our halt was a brief one. We found the compound glaring in the sun, empty, silent, filled only with memories of the men who, with their laughter, their stories, and their songs had made it live.

But now all were gone, the old familiar faces and the familiar voices, and we threw our things back on the carts and hurried away. The trails between Hai-Cheng and the sea made the worst going we had encountered in Manchuria. You soon are convinced that the time has not been long since this tract of land lay entirely under the waters of the Gulf of Liaotung. You soon scent the salt air, and as you flounder in the alluvial deposits of ages, you expect to find the salt-water at the very roots of the millet. Water lies in every furrow of the miles of cornfields, water flows in streams in the roads, water spreads in lakes over the compounds, it oozes from beneath the very walls of the go-downs. You would not be surprised at any moment to see the tide returning to envelop you. In this liquid mud a cart can make a trail by the simple process of continuing forward. The havoc is created in the millet and the ditches its iron-studded wheels dig in the mud leave to the eyes of the next comer as perfectly good a trail as the one that has been in use for many centuries. Consequently the opportunities for choosing the wrong trail are excellent, and we embraced every opportunity. But friendly Chinamen, and certainly they are a friendly, human people, again and again cheerfully went far out of their way to guide us back to ours, and so, after two days, we found ourselves five miles from New-Chwang.

Here we agreed to separate. We had heard a marvellous tale that at New-Chwang there was ice, champagne, and a hotel with enamelled bath-tubs. We had unceasingly discussed the probability of this being true, and what we would do with these luxuries if we got them, and when we came so near to where they were supposed to be, it was agreed that one of us would ride on ahead and command them, while the others followed with the carts. The lucky number fell to John Fox, and he left us at a gallop. He was to engage rooms for the four, and to arrange for the care of seven Japanese interpreters and servants, nine Chinese coolies, and nineteen horses and mules. We expected that by eight o'clock we would be eating the best dinner John Fox could order. We were mistaken. Not that John Fox had not ordered the dinner, but no one ate it but John Fox. The very minute he left us Priory's cart turned turtle in the mud, and the largest of his four mules lay down in it and knocked off work. The mule was hot and very tired, and the mud was soft, cool, and wet, so he burrowed under its protecting surface until all we could see of him was his ears. The coolies shrieked at him, Prior issued ultimatums at him, the Japanese servants stood on dry land fifteen feet away and talked about him, but he only snuggled deeper into his mud bath. When there is no more of a mule to hit than his ears, he has you at a great disadvantage, and when the coolies waded in and tugged at his head, we found that the harder they tugged, the deeper they sank. When they were so far out of sight that we were in danger of losing them too, we ordered them to give up the struggle and unload the cart. Before we got it out of dry-dock, reloaded, and again in line with the other carts it was nine o'clock, and dark.

In the meantime, Lynch, his sense of duty weakened by visions of enamelled bathtubs filled with champagne and floating lumps of ice, had secretly abandoned us, stealing away in the night and leaving us to follow. This, not ten minutes after we had started, Mr. Prior decided that he would not do, so he camped out with the carts in a village, while, dinnerless, supperless, and thirsty, I rode on alone. I reached New-Chwang at midnight, and after being refused admittance by the Japanese soldiers, was finally rescued by the Number One man from the Manchuria Hotel, who had been sent out by Fox with two sikhs and a lantern to find me. For some minutes I dared not ask him the fateful questions. It was better still to hope than to put one's fortunes to the test. But I finally summoned my courage.

"Ice, have got?" I begged.

"Have got," he answered.

There was a long, grateful pause, and then in a voice that trembled, I again asked, "Champagne, have got?"

Number One man nodded.

"Have got," he said.

I totally forgot until the next morning to ask about the enamelled bathtubs.

When I arrived John Fox had gone to bed, and as it was six weeks since any of us had seen a real bed, I did not wake him. Hence, he did not know I was in the hotel, and throughout the troubles that followed I slept soundly.

Meanwhile, Lynch, as a punishment for running away from us, lost his own way, and, after stumbling into an old sow and her litter of pigs, which on a dark night is enough to startle any one, stumbled into a Japanese outpost, was hailed as a Russian spy, and made prisoner. This had one advantage, as he now was able to find New-Chwang, to which place he was marched, closely guarded, arriving there at half-past two in the morning. Since he ran away from us he had been wandering about on foot for ten hours. He sent a note to Mr. Little, the British Consul, and to Bush Brothers, the kings of New-Chwang, and, still tormented by visions of ice and champagne, demanded that his captors take him to the Manchuria Hotel. There he swore they would find a pass from Fukushima allowing him to enter New-Chwang, three friends who could identify him, four carts, seven servants, nine coolies, and nineteen animals. The commandant took him to the Manchuria Hotel, where instead of this wealth of corroborative detail they found John Fox in bed. As Prior, the only one of us not in New-Chwang, had the pass from Fukushima, permitting us to enter it, there was no one to prove what either Lynch or Fox said, and the officer flew into a passion and told Fox he would send both of them out of town on the first train. Mr. Fox was annoyed at being pulled from his bed at three in the morning to be told he was a Russian spy, so he said that there was not a train fast enough to get him out of New-Chwang as quickly as he wanted to go, or, for that matter, out of Japan and away from the Japanese people. At this the officer, being a Yale graduate, and speaking very pure English, told Mr. Fox to "shut up," and Mr. Fox being a Harvard graduate, with an equally perfect command of English, pure and undefiled, shook his fist in the face of the Japanese officer and told him to "shut up yourself." Lynch, seeing the witness he had summoned for the defence about to plunge into conflict with his captor, leaped unhappily from foot to foot, and was heard diplomatically suggesting that all hands should adjourn for ice and champagne.

"If I were a spy," demanded Fox, "do you suppose I would have ridden into your town on a white horse and registered at your head-quarters and then ordered four rooms at the principal hotel and accommodations for seven servants, nine coolies, and nineteen animals? Is that the way a Russian spy works? Does he go around with a brass band?"

The officer, unable to answer in kind this excellent reasoning, took a mean advantage of his position by placing both John and Lynch under arrest, and at the head of each bed a Japanese policeman to guard their slumbers. The next morning Prior arrived with the pass, and from the decks of the first out-bound English steamer Fox hurled through the captain's brass speaking-trumpet our farewells to the Japanese, as represented by the gun-boats in the harbor. Their officers, probably thinking his remarks referred to floating mines, ran eagerly to the side. But our ship's captain tumbled from the bridge, rescued his trumpet, and begged Fox, until we were under the guns of a British man-of-war, to issue no more farewell addresses. The next evening we passed into the Gulf of Pe-chi-li, and saw above Port Arthur the great guns flashing in the night, and the next day we anchored in the snug harbor of Chefoo.

I went at once to the cable station to cable Collier's I was returning, and asked the Chinaman in charge if my name was on his list of those correspondents who could send copy collect. He said it was; and as I started to write, he added with grave politeness, "I congratulate you."

For a moment I did not lift my eyes. I felt a chill creeping down my spine. I knew what sort of a blow was coming, and I was afraid of it.

"Why?" I asked.

The Chinaman bowed and smiled.

"Because you are the first," he said. "You are the only correspondent to arrive who has seen the battle of Liao-Yang."

The chill turned to a sort of nausea. I knew then what disaster had fallen, but I cheated myself by pretending the man was misinformed. "There was no battle," I protested. "The Japanese told me themselves they had entered Liao-Yang without firing a shot." The cable operator was a gentleman. He saw my distress, saw what it meant and delivered the blow with the distaste of a physician who must tell a patient he cannot recover. Gently, reluctantly, with real sympathy he said, "They have been fighting for six days."

I went over to a bench, and sat down; and when Lynch and Fox came in and took one look at me, they guessed what had happened. When the Chinaman told them of what we had been cheated, they, in their turn, came to the bench, and collapsed. No one said anything. No one even swore. Six months we had waited only to miss by three days the greatest battle since Gettysburg and Sedan. And by a lie.

For six months we had tasted all the indignities of the suspected spy, we had been prisoners of war, we had been ticket-of-leave men, and it is not difficult to imagine our glad surprise that same day when we saw in the harbor the white hull of the cruiser Cincinnati with our flag lifting at her stern. We did not know a soul on board, but that did not halt us. As refugees, as fleeing political prisoners, as American slaves escaping from their Japanese jailers, we climbed over the side and demanded protection and dinner. We got both. Perhaps it was not good to rest on that bit of drift-wood, that atom of our country that had floated far from the mainland and now formed an island of American territory in the harbor of Chefoo. Perhaps we were not content to sit at the mahogany table in the glistening white and brass bound wardroom surrounded by those eager, sunburned faces, to hear sea slang and home slang in the accents of Maine, Virginia, and New York City. We forgot our dark-skinned keepers with the slanting, suspicious, unfriendly eyes, with tongues that spoke the one thing and meant the other. All the memories of those six months of deceit, of broken pledges, of unnecessary humiliations, of petty unpoliteness from a half-educated, half-bred, conceited, and arrogant people fell from us like a heavy knapsack. We were again at home. Again with our own people. Out of the happy confusion of that great occasion I recall two toasts. One was offered by John Fox. "Japan for the Japanese, and the Japanese for Japan." Even the Japanese wardroom boy did not catch its significance. The other was a paraphrase of a couplet in reference to our brown brothers of the Philippines first spoken in Manila. "To the Japanese: 'They may be brothers to Commodore Perry, but they ain't no brothers of mine.'"

It was a joyous night. Lieutenant Gilmore, who had been an historic prisoner in the Philippines, so far sympathized with our escape from the Yellow Peril as to intercede with the captain to extend the rules of the ship. And those rules that were incapable of extending broke. Indeed, I believe we broke everything but the eight-inch gun. And finally we were conducted to our steamer in a launch crowded with slim-waisted, broad-chested youths in white mess jackets, clasping each other's shoulders and singing, "Way down in my heart, I have a feeling for you, a sort of feeling for you"; while the officer of the deck turned his back, and discreetly fixed his night glass upon a suspicious star.

It was an American cruiser that rescued this war correspondent from the bondage of Japan. It will require all the battle-ships in the Japanese navy to force him back to it.


Richard Harding Davis

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