General Sassulitch was one of those blindly resolute old autocrats who still despised the Japanese.
Continuing The Russo-Japanese War,
with a selection from Article in Great Events by Famous Historians, Volume XX by Charles F. Horne published in 1914. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. This selection is presented in nine easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in The Russo-Japanese War.
Place: Korea and Manchuria
On April 30th the Japanese General, Kuroki, swung the vanguard of his troops across the river near the town of Wiju. He had misled the Russian general Sassulitch as to the point of attack, and so achieved the passage of the river with success. On May 1st his men boldly stormed the Russian heights in face of a deadly fire. The timely moment for the Russian withdrawal passed unheeded. General Sassulitch was one of those blindly resolute old autocrats who still despised the Japanese. He believed his men could hold their lines against the entire army of the “little yellow men.” Soon the Russians at the immediate point of attack were hopelessly outnumbered, and, despite a brave resistance, were driven into hurried retreat. Sassulitch found his entire force in danger of being surrounded and captured. Indeed, at a little town called Hamatan, two thousand were enveloped by the foe. A single hurrying Japanese company first appeared upon their line of retreat. It was attacked; but instead of fleeing, its members stood their ground in a struggle hand to hand. Most of them were slain, but the delay gave other Japanese troops time to come up, and soon their intercepting line was too strong to be broken through. Cannon began to play upon the entrapped Russians. They fought desperately but hopelessly, and only two hundred survivors surrendered in Hamatan.
In this, the battle of Wiju, or of the Yalu, the first important land fight of the war, both sides showed splendid courage; but the Japanese had a great advantage in generalship and organization, nor did the smaller size of their men seem to tell at all against them. When a man holds a straight-shooting rifle with a keen-edged bayonet, his bulk counts far less than his intellect and quickness. The loss of the Japanese was heavy in their first attack, but that of the Russians was still heavier in their confused retreat. The total of killed, wounded, and missing was about a thousand on one side, three thousand on the other.
After this severe experience, General Kuropatkin’s subordinates became more obedient to his plans. Gradually, as the Japanese advanced from the Yalu and landed other armies at various points along the Manchurian coast, the Russians drew back into the interior country. A glance at the map will show that the great Siberian railway crosses Asia direct to Vladivostok, passing six hundred miles to the north of Port Arthur. A branch line from Port Arthur runs in a northerly direction across Manchuria until it strikes the main road at a town called Harbin. It was along this branch railroad that Russian reinforcements were arriving, and hence Kuropatkin retreated along its line toward Harbin. This left Port Arthur isolated and surrounded by the Japanese; and there was some talk in Russia of abandoning the celebrated fortress without a blow. But Russian pride could not yet consent to so sweeping a confession of defeat. Moreover, the surrender of the Port would mean the surrender also of the fleet protected in its harbor. Hence as many defenders were left in the town as it could hold, forty-five thousand in all, including the ten thousand sailors of the fleet; ample provisions and ammunition were stored with them, and they were left to hold their own, until the reinforced army of Kuropatkin should return. Many military critics declared the stronghold to be impregnable.
The Russian defensive works reached to the base of the peninsula of Liaotung, at whose tip Port Arthur lies. A Japanese army under General Oku landed close to the enemy’s outer lines, and on May 26th charged them full in face. This daring assault or battle of Nanshan, as it has been called, impressed the world even more than the crossing of the Yalu. Japanese bravery and devotion were most amazingly displayed. The troops here hurled themselves against well-defended, permanent fortifications, protected by mines and rifle-pits and those cruel inventions of modern warfare, tangled masses of barbed-wire fence. After a whole day of deadly fighting, a Japanese division succeeded in wading through the shallow waters along shore and taking the enemy in flank. The Russians were then slowly driven back, despite desperate resistance. The loss of the Japanese was more than four thousand men, that of the Russians perhaps half as great.
The result of this battle was, that the defenders of Port Arthur were shut up within the immediate fortifications surrounding the town itself. Half way up the peninsula, they had built a beautiful city, Dalny, intended to be the capital of Russia in the East. This now fell into the hands of the triumphant foe, though it was destroyed as far as possible by the retreating Russians. After this splendid success, General Oku and his troops were dispatched northward to join General Kuroki in the advance against the main army of Kuropatkin. Another army sent from Japan under command of General Nogi was left to besiege Port Arthur. This army was nearly a hundred thousand strong.
Meanwhile the Russian Government had been awaking to the real magnitude of the war, and had been making most energetic and admirable efforts to strengthen its forces. Through all the month of May thousands of fresh troops had been reaching Kuropatkin; and there was now a very general demand in Russia that he should return to the relief of Port Arthur. Perhaps it was in deference to popular clamor that he dispatched a force of thirty-five thousand men under General Stackelberg to break a way through the Japanese into the besieged fortress. Stackelberg’s troops were met by the largely superior forces of General Oku in the battle of Telissu (June 14th), and not only was his advance checked, but his army was routed and put to utter flight with the loss of perhaps a fourth of its entire number. The Japanese official report of their own loss puts it at less than a thousand. They had simply to stand their ground and pour their artillery fire against the mass of charging Russians, until the assailants were fairly swept from the tragic field.
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