- Historic Sites
A Yankee Among The War Lords
First of the Three Parts from STILWELL THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE IN CHINA 1911-1945
October 1970 | Volume 21, Issue 6
After a year’s absence in Moscow, Feng was once more in command of the Kuominchun (National People’s Army), the well-armed and disciplined force of over two hundred thousand that he had built up in Shensi and that figured in Comintern strategy as the northern arm of the revolutionary forces in China. To make junction with this force was the essential goal of the Kuomintang, but whether Feng would opt for the Communist-Left coalition at Hankow or for Chiang Kai-shek was as yet uncertain. …
While Hankow and Chiang Kai-shek were both negotiating for his alliance, Feng as a result of various defaults by the northerners captured Chengchow, causing the northern army in the area to retreat behind the Yellow River, which in turn uncovered Hsuchow. This development decided Chang Tsung-chang to retreat.
Stilwell hurried to the telegraph office to send word to the legation, but he was too late. The office was closed, and the operators had fled. Next day, his fourth in Hsuchow, there was no doubt any longer; the northerners were pulling out. He counted six trains leaving in half an hour. When they were gone, the southerners would flood in, and a foreigner might likely as not be lynched. His object now was to get out with Chao as soon as possible. The Tuchun’s train was in the yards, but they were not allowed on; and when they attempted to push their way on board one of the crowded troop trains, they were thrown off. They tried offers of money in vain, the soldiers being themselves too anxious to leave to yield their places. As the Tuchun’s train pulled out, Stilwell could feel panic rising in the crowd of soldiers around him. “How soon would their officers get them out of this. … Control would now be difficult … everyone is ugly.” The troops crammed on the remaining cars with “latecomers scurrying frantically to get aboard and perch anywhere—on the end-ladders or between the cars. Many will be shaken off. …” As he watched, one man fell under the moving wheels and was left to die, “no doctor, no help of any kind, just a crowd of curious coolies jammed around him.”
Now it was too late to leave with the northerners. What should he do? Walk? Could he reach Feng Yu-hsiang, some fifty miles off to the west? But the Red Spears were in between, and “they will not discriminate in our favor.” To the east, more Red Spears, “and the Russians. I am afraid of the Russians.” The only alternative was to sit still and wait for the southerners “and that scares me as badly as the Russians do.” Mr. T’ang, the Y.M.C.A. secretary, confessing himself a southern sympathizer, advised staying as safer than going.
For two days after the trains left, “the town waited, holding its breath for the next wave to break over it. … One scourge gone, only to make room for another?” The northern rear guard came through, shooting, looting, and yelling and doubling the turmoil at night. After them came “the pitiful remnants of a retiring Chinese army: the sick and wounded, dragging themselves along with only the prospect of death from the Red Spears ahead of them.” Shops shut, mules sold for three hundred dollars, and food was not for sale at all. At night “hell let loose; an engine screeching the alarm, pings yelling and firing field-guns, rifles, pistols. Only a few bullets whizzed our way.” A plane came over and dropped a few bombs. The Russians who had stayed behind in their armor-plated train were the worst. They ran the train, equipped with machine guns and a naval gun mounted on the rear car, up and down the line, “terrorizing the people by-shooting and then stealing everything moveable.” When the country people pulled up the track to block the train, the Russians “just about massacred the village” nearest the break. …
On the morning of June 2 Mr. T’ang reported that the Tang Chun (Party or Kuomintang Army) had arrived. They were behaving well, no beating, no looting, but Chao insisted that Stilwell stay out of sight. Everyone in the neighborhood knew there was a foreigner in Mr. T’ang’s house, and Stilwell wondered when his presence would be reported to the soldiers. He imagined the squad that would come bursting in, yelling for the foreigner, and tried to put his mind on something else. After four days of hiding with nothing to do but draw pictures, he felt desperate. “Must do something; hike south seems to be the only feasible plan.” After another day, when he resorted to jumping over wooden horses for half an hour “to keep from going nutty,” he decided he “must get out of here somehow.” Mr. T’ang was growing cool and might be regretting having given shelter to a foreigner. On the sixth day of hiding Chao at last agreed to take a chance. They walked out and made acquaintance with the Tang Chun pings , “a cheerful gang, mostly boys hardly 16, little runts with narrow shoulders, no weight. … All the pings have been filled full of pro-American propaganda. They think America will actively help them.” The city was hung with Kuomintang flags and welcome signs, shops had reopened, women reappeared in the streets, carpenters were busy repairing damage, but the dead and dying still lay in the alleys. …
Stilwell made up his mind to leave via the south for Shanghai. The northerners had taken with them all the rolling stock they could collect, but word came that a southbound train would be going through next day. Through a crush of frantic people waiting to get on, a wild scramble id a pall of garlic fumes, he and Chao fought their way on board.