Page:Tseng Kuo Fan and the Taiping Rebellion.djvu/65

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47
ORGANISATION OF GOD-WORSHIPPERS

in turn tried to take the town by storm. Their concerted attack lasted for three days and nights and might have brought the rebellion to an end but for the death of some of the officers and the relaxation of effort on the part of some of those who remained. The rebels were forced back behind their walls. Again about the last of February the latter, issuing from the city, tried in vain to break the lines of the enemy.

This deadlock continued until the sixth of April, when there was another attack by the rebels against the weakest part of the imperial lines, which yielded before the terrific impact and on the seventh opened the way for the entire Taiping host to break through and escape. Wulant'ai appears to have made a desperate attack on them as they were going through the mountains and inflicted more than two thousand casualties, capturing Hung Ta-ch'üan, the T'ienteh-wang, one of the co-sovereigns. Heavy rains and a general paralysis of the imperial army conspired to prevent the adoption of any effective measures until the rebels were safely over the hills and far away. Only Wulant'ai kept up a fight with their rear until not far from Kweilin he was fatally wounded and his troops were disheartened.

This disaster was the turning point in the war for both sides. The rebels lost Hung Ta-ch'üan, one of their chief military leaders. But their escape so clearly pointed to divine interposition that the religious side of their cause was greatly strengthened; they believed themselves invincible. More and more their enterprise became characterised by fanaticism, less and less by levelheaded and far-seeing statesmanship. Indeed, there is reason to suspect that Hung Ta-ch'üan was deliberately abandoned to the imperialists, for only Wei Ch'ang-hui attempted his rescue. The others could not or would not go to his aid. The cause was destined to prosper for