By LeAnn Fawver, U.S. Army Military History InsitituteJuly 28, 2009
On August 14, 1900, an international military force, including American Soldiers and Marines, entered Peking, China (modern day Beijing) to rescue besieged diplomats and civilians during the Boxer Rebellion.
During spring 1900, civil unrest in China became a violent rebellion against foreign influence. By May the violence had spread to the city of Peking, forcing foreign civilians and Chinese Christians to seek shelter on the grounds of the Diplomatic Legations and at the North Cathedral. Both locations came under siege, and in late June communications with the outside world were cut.
In response to the emergency, an unofficial international coalition came into being. A first relief expedition was rapidly assembled from among available military forces at Tientsin on June 10. They were unable to break through the Boxers and had to fight their way back to Tientsin, which was now also under siege.
Reinforcements from Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States assembled off the coast of China. From its extensive forces in the Philippines, the U.S. Army sent the 9th and 14th Infantry Regiments, the 6th Cavalry Regiment, and Battery F of the 5th Field Artillery Regiment (Reilly's Battery). Major General Adna R. Chaffee, Sr. (a future Army Chief of Staff), commanded the American contingent. Count Alfred von Waldersee, former Chief of the German General Staff, was slated to become the overall Commanding General, but he would not reach China until September. Relieving the besieged embassies could not wait that long. Instead, Chaffee and his counterpart commanders of each other nationAca,!a,,cs forces developed an informal combined command system whereby they met in conference to decide strategy by majority rule. Troops worked under the control of their own commanders but could be sent to reinforce units from other nations during battle.
Joint naval operations against the Chinese batteries at Taku on June 17, allowed the relief expedition forces to land. They fought their way to Tientsin, taking the city on July 14. On August 4, 8000 Japanese, 4800 Russian, 3000 British, 2100 American, and 800 French soldiers began their march to Peking.
Fifteen miles from Peking, the five commanders met to plan their attack. They agreed to march to Peking on the 14th in five parallel columns. The attack on the city was scheduled for the 15th, with each force attacking a designated city gate. But, during the night of the 13th, the Russian forces stole a march on their allies, and attacked at the AmericansAca,!a,,c designated gate, the Tung Pien Men.
The other nations rushed to join the battle on the 14th. The American force, blocked from their gate by the pinned down Russians, moved forward to the city wall in ones and twos. Colonel Aaron S. Daggett of the 14th Infantry Regiment came up to the wall and wondered aloud if it could be climbed. Corporal Calvin P. Titus, bugler of Company E of the 14th, spoke up, "I'll try, sir." Corporal Titus led the way over the wall, allowing the Americans to attack the Chinese defenders at the gate. With the gate open, American and Russian forces fought their way through Peking toward the Diplomatic Legations.
With the Chinese forces distracted by the American and Russian attacks inside Peking, the British force was able to enter the city largely unopposed, and was the first to the Legations at about 3 p.m. The Americans reached it at 4:30, the Russians an hour later, and the Japanese commander arrived later that evening. The French arrived on the 15th.
During emergency of the Boxer Rebellion, military forces from eight nations cooperated in pursuit of the common goal of rescuing the diplomats and civilians trapped in Peking. A multinational parade was held in the city on August 28, 1900, to celebrate their victory, but the peace treaty would not be signed until a year later.
ABOUT THIS STORY: Many of the sources presented in this article are among 400,000 books, 1.7 million photos and 12.5 million manuscripts available for study through the U.S. Army Military History Institute (MHI). The artifacts shown are among nearly 50,000 items of the Army Heritage Museum (AHM) collections. MHI and AHM are part of the: Army Heritage and Education Center, 950 Soldiers Drive, Carlisle, PA, 17013-5021.