Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, February 6, 2017

American Forces at Peking, 1900

The U.S. 14th Infantry Relieves the Russian Contingent at Peking

The decade following the Spanish American War gave the generation of American officers destined to serve in command positions during the Great War a remarkable number and variety of missions to perform. Of course, none of these challenges were comparable in scope to the fighting that would come on the Western Front, but they did allow these men to develop their capacity to grasp large, complicated, and unusual military operations. Serving in deployments remote from the American heartland and with duties far beyond what individuals of their age and rank would normally face, they gained an awareness of the greater world and learned to bear the weight of great responsibility. The first such challenge would come, surprisingly, in China.

Peking 1900

The longstanding commitment to keep a strong American presence in the Pacific was reasserted in 1900 when nearly 15,000 soldiers and Marines under the command of future Army chief of staff Adna Chaffee were sent to China to support the mission to relieve Peking during the Boxer Rebellion. One byproduct of this effort was the exposure to the professional officers and soldiers of almost all major nations that would participate in the Great War. The mission and the American contribution to it were considered a great successes and a notable beginning for the 20th-century American military.

Perhaps most striking was the quick patching together of an expeditionary force and deploying it 5,000 miles to the far side of the Pacific. The joint-service force was assembled from the Philippines, ships at sea, and U.S. garrisons. Once in China, the troops impressed the foreign contingents with their ability to move quickly and adjust to a foreign environment. General Chaffee also displayed great tact and flexibility in dealing with a loose international command structure, providing a model for General Pershing's later leadership of the AEF.

Company H, 9th Infantry, Peking, 1900

On the downside, communications between the military and diplomats, and between both of those parties and the home country were inadequate and slow. In weaponry, the lesson that improvements in firepower, with machine guns and new artillery, gave great advantage to defenders was not absorbed by any of the relief mission participants, with the possible exception of the Japanese, who would display a tactical superiority in their war with the Russians a few years later.

Nevertheless, for the American military, Peking, was a major landmark in its preparations for the Great War and for waging war across another ocean.

1 comment:

  1. The US Army's 25th Infantry Division home based in Hawaii contains the 14th and the 9th Regiments; the "Golden Dragons" and the "Manchus".