On New Year’s day of 1905 its commandant, General Stoessel, surrendered.
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
The losses in this great battle were about twenty thousand on either side. In its outcome it was indecisive. Kuropatkin lost his defensive works at Liaoyang; but his army remained intact, and his reinforcements were still arriving. Both sides now realized more fully how gigantic must be their struggle. By utmost effort Russia could barely hold her own. On the other hand, there were to be no more easy victories for Japan, like the Yalu and Telissu. Marshal Oyama desisted from his advance. It was too costly. In his turn he demanded reinforcements.
Twenty-five miles north of Liaoyang the railroad crosses the Sha-Ho or Sha River. On the opposite banks of this the two armies entrenched themselves and lay like exhausted wrestlers, each watching the other and acknowledging the other’s power, each waiting for increase of strength. Despite the distance from St. Petersburg, the Russian reinforcements arrived the earlier; for Russia is the larger country and she had not yet drawn nearly so deeply on her resources as Japan. By October, Kuropatkin must have had nearly three hundred thousand men, and he published a much-quoted order to his soldiers, proclaiming that Russia had at last gathered her strength, that the retreating movement was at an end, and that, advancing in his turn, he would sweep the Japanese into the sea.
On October 9th he assailed the enemy along the entire line, in the second huge battle of the war, known as that of Sha River. Like that of Liaoyang, this contest continued more than a week. There were four days of Russian attack, maintained despite losses the most enormous the war had yet recorded. Then Kuropatkin, repulsed at every point, withdrew in despair. The Japanese followed him with vigorous counter-attacks, hoping to disorganize his army and perhaps destroy it completely. But, as before at Liaoyang, the Russians proved their ability to make a retreat without its degenerating into a flight. They fell back fighting. There was one hill on the bank of the Sha River that was repeatedly taken and retaken. It is known to-day as Putiloff Hill, because, on the last day of the struggle, Putiloff, the Russian commander in charge there, surprised an entire Japanese brigade, surrounded and almost exterminated it. This was the one noteworthy aggressive success gained by the Russians in the entire war.
Not until October 17th. had the last of Kuropatkin’s defeated troops retreated to the river. The total losses in this obstinate combat have been rated by some authorities as high as a hundred thousand men, almost a fourth of those engaged. Three quarters of this enormous loss fell upon the Russians, and their widely heralded advance was frustrated at its beginning. Their frontal attack had proved even more costly and far less successful than that of the Japanese at Liaoyang. Kuropatkin with his exhausted troops fell back another twenty miles to the Hun River, the next of the streams tributary to the Liao. His headquarters were on the railway at Mukden, the ancient capital of the Chinese emperors. There he placed his men in winter quarters, and the equally outworn foe were content to imitate his example.
The winters of inland Manchuria are very severe. The temperature falls many degrees below zero, and human life, even under favorable conditions, is seriously threatened. Military operations become almost an impossibility. Kuropatkin, therefore, felt temporarily secure within his icebound lines, and thought to hold them until spring, meanwhile repeating his former call for further reinforcements. Russia, exerting all her enormous vigor, declared she would have half a million men upon the fighting line when the campaign should reopen in 1905. Japan, with her smaller population but easier access to the seat of war, was equally determined, and made similar extraordinary efforts to increase her armies.
Only around Port Arthur did active operations continue through the winter. At the close of November, after another series of desperate assaults, Nogi’s troops captured “203 Metre Hill,” an eminence from which their cannon commanded the entire harbor and much of the town itself. Under the stress of this bombardment, Port Arthur weakened at last. On New Year’s day of 1905 its commandant, General Stoessel, surrendered. He and more than thirty thousand followers, including the wounded and the sailors, became prisoners of war. Port Arthur, with the hulks of its once powerful fleet and all its supplies, fell prizes to the indomitable persistence of Japan.
To the Emperor, Stoessel sent a noble telegram: “Great Emperor, forgive. We have done all that was humanly possible.” For a time this assertion was accepted as true, and Stoessel was glorified as a hero. But soon comments of another tone began to appear. The amount of supplies surrendered had been enormous; the men taken prisoners were nearly three-quarters of the original garrison; the chief fortifications were still intact. Surely, it was said, Port Arthur might have continued its defense for yet a little longer. By degrees Stoessel fell from his pedestal. We are told now that he took no active part in the siege, that the true leader of the troops in all their stubborn and marvelous resistance was his chief-of-staff, General Kondrachenko. Kondrachenko perished in the November assault, and the soul of the garrison fell with him. Stoessel had only become active as a negotiator of surrender.
The loss of one popular hero, however, from among so many, need scarcely be deplored. The siege of Port Arthur ranks among the most stupendous military operations of history. The defense of the garrison, up to Kondrachenko’s death, had been skillfully conducted and obstinate in the extreme. As for the Japanese, seventy-five thousand fell before the fortress finally surrendered. At the word of command whole regiments hurled themselves upon mines and battlements in blind self-sacrifice. Never has anything been seen to exceed their amazing devotion to country, their unshaken courage, and utter scorn of death.
With the fall of Port Arthur and the beginning of 1905 we approach the third stage of the war. Japan had accomplished all she set out to achieve. Korea was hers, and the control of the Asiatic seas. The Russians had been driven out of southern Manchuria and defeated at every point. It remained now for the victors to conquer peace.
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