Monday, October 17, 2005

Filipino/Chinese/American Military History

The resident 'Pandai' (Bladesmith) of the Detroit Maphilindos - Ungyo - who has a mind for history as sharp as one of the blades he forges -was kind enough to send me the following tidbit of Military history... JD

Some background on Ward, taken from The Devil Soldier: The Story of Frederick Townsend Ward, The Most Honored and Controversial American in Chinese History , by Caleb Carr:

A soldier of fortune who became a military genius of astounding virtuosity, American adventurer Frederick Townsend Ward fought with William Walker in Mexico and in the French Army in the Crimean War. But it was in China- a country that always exercised a powerful hold over him- that Ward would conduct one of the most extraordinary military campaigns in history.

In 1859, the local Chinese authorities of Shanghai were faced with the approaching rebel army of the Taipings; cornered, they looked to the local western population for help in defending the city. At this crucial stage of the Taiping rebellion- the most bloody and destructive civil war the world has ever suffered- Frederick Townsend Ward emerged as the man able and willing to take history into his own hands.

Ward built the Ever Victorious Army- otherwise known as The Devil Soldiers - in response to the mounting rebel threat/. While leading this highly successful force of Western trained Chinese soldiers, Ward was wounded many times, imprisoned by the British on a warship (from which he made a dramatic escape) and naturalized as a Chinese citizen. He eventually married the daughter of a Chinese mandarin, won a string of critical victories against the Taipings, and was awarded a generalship and a mandarinate of his own.

By June of 1860, Ward had a polyglot force of 100 Westerners, trained in the best small arms (including Colt revolvers) and rifles available for purchase in Shanghai. Protesting that his forces were not fully trained, Ward was forced by his Shanghai backers to take his men into action alongside Imperial forces probing Taiping advances, retaking two captured towns. They were then forced by circumstances (and the urging of their Shanghai backers) to assault the Taiping occupied and fortified city of Sung-Chiang, without artillery a near impossible task. The attack failed, sending the thoroughly defeated force back to Shanghai.

The Foreign Arms Corps had no siege equipment, a deficiency Ward hoped to overcome by attacking at night and, with luck, achieving surprise. But the men of the corps- perhaps overly impressed by the part they had played in he two earlier victories- brought large amounts of alcohol with them on the Sung-Chiang raid. By the time they were making their way across the flat, grassy terrain outside the city, they were making so much noise that the Taiping sentries were alerted to their approach. The corps suffered heavy casualties and was thrown into flight. ̃The miserable survivors, Dr. Macgowan wrote, "returned as stragglers to Shanghai, utterly disgusted. They were paid off and disbanded." (Carr, p.90)

Now get this...

In the face of this disheartening spectacle, Ward dismissed almost all the men, retaining only those who had demonstrated bravery and ability and whose arrogance might be transformed, with time, into something like authority. These few would become officers. But they would need men to command, and it was now necessary to rethink old notions about who in Shanghai would make the best soldiers of fortune. Ward took to the waterfront once again to grapple with this riddle and soon made an acquaintance who facilitated a solution.

Vincente Macanaya was twenty-three in 1860 and one of Shanghais large population of Manilamen - Filipinos who were handy on board ships and more than a little troublesome on land. Renowned as ferocious fighters, especially at close quarters, the Manilamen were in a class with the famous Lascars of Malaysia and the pirates of the Bay of Bengal, groups that were also known to frequent the foreign settlements in Shanghai.

Macanaya himself- who would, after his initial acquaintance with Ward, be known throughout Shanghai simply as Vincente- had been born in Manila and was a seasoned young man of singular courage. As Charles Schmidt, who swerved with and knew him well, wrote while Vincente was still alive:

"If real bravery consists in an undauntedness of spirit, a cool presence of mind, and active physical exertion, then all these qualities are combined in Vincente to a degree that leaves no doubt on the minds of the many friends who know him, and have seen him so fearless in the midst of danger. He has all the appearance of a soldier. There is nothing rough about that appearance. [He is] gentlemanly in his ways to all, kind hearted to his friends, sober in his habits, quick in perception, frank, liberal to a fault, and with an eye always to duty, serving faithfully where he serves, beloved and respected by his comrades in arms."


Anonymous said...


The question I have is: did Ungyo make the knife that you were using in class last night (10/20/2005)? Can I get one?

guro jeff davidson said...

Dear Forward Slash,

That was indeed very "forward" of you to ask. The answer to your first question is YES.

The answer to your second question is NO.

Pandai Ungyo (that's OFFICER UNGYO to you, anyway) is capable of making many diverse blades, and has done so in the past. Perhaps you can commission a blade to be made especially for you. That one I was using last night however, is all MINE.

Thank you,
Guro Davidson
ps. Nah-nah!