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The last days of Nian army: rebels lured Zhang Zongyu to Shaanxi, and in end he was trapped.

In same year of Xiantong, there was no peace in China. The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom produced wind and rain in south, Nian army fought in north and west, and Hui people created divisions in northwest and Yunnan. And all three cooperated with each other and supported each other, which exhausted army of Qing Dynasty. Especially in northwest, it involved Muslims, Taiping army and Nian army, which not only destroyed economy of Northwest, but also blocked traffic in Northwest, causing a large number of territories to fall. The Qing Dynasty expended vast amounts of manpower and material resources to pacify Northwest, resulting in a shortage of funds for coastal defense, which severely limited China's modernization process. This article mainly talks about advance of Nian army to northwest.

First, Zhang Zongyu advanced into Shaanxi, why was Zuo Zongtang delayed?

Back in 1862, when Anqing fell, Chen Yucheng sent communist king Chen Decai, Qi Wang Liang Chengfu, Zun Wang Lai Wenguang, and King Lan Chengchun's Hu to lead an expedition of 30,000 soldiers to northwest in an attempt to cooperate with people Hui and create a new world in Shaanxi and Gansu. After Northwest Army entered southern Shaanxi, Zhang Zongyu also led Nian Army to advance towards Guanzhong, and there was a tacit understanding between two sides. The Muslims, instigated by extreme separatists such as Ma Hualong, Bai Yanhu and Ren Wu, rioted, and massacres took place in Shaanxi and Gansu.

Zhang Zongyu

At that time, Taiping army had connections with Hui people, otherwise Chen Yucheng would not have dared to send a large army to northwest. However, distance between Northwest and Anhui is so great that it must be a military adventure for Chen Yucheng if he dares to let army cross Hubei, Henan and other provinces to reach Shaanxi. Soon Tianjing was besieged, and Nian army and Northwestern army withdrew east, pursued and intercepted by Hunan army and Sen army along way, they suffered heavy losses.

After fall of Tianjin, Lai Wenguang and Zhang Zongyu joined forces, unified and reformed Taiping army and Nian army to form a new Nian army, and replaced infantry with cavalry to increase mobility. After that, New Nian's army fought mobile in north, defeated Seng Gelingqin, and got rid of encirclement and suppression of Zeng Guofan's "river defense". However, prolonged mobile battles made it difficult for troops to rest and supplies, and gradually turned into a passive state. Thus, they parted ways again: Zhang Zongyu led a detachment advancing into Shaanxi and continued to cooperate with Hui people, while Lai Wenguang continued to fight in Northern China.

Subsequently, under conditions of Li Hongzhang's encirclement and suppression, Nian Lai Wenguang's eastern army lost one after another and was gradually besieged in Shandong. By 1868, entire Eastern Nien army was annihilated, Lai Wenguang was arrested and killed, and entire North China region finally stabilized. Thereafter, Qing dynasty was finally able to direct its main energy towards suppressing Shaanxi-Gansu Hui rebellion in northwest, Western Nian army, and Agubai rebellion.

Is it wise for Zhang Zongyu to move to Shaanxi? At that time, General Duolong (Manchu) led Hunan army to fight in Shaanxi, quickly quelling chaos of Hui in Shaanxi, and large numbers of Hui poured into Gansu. As Duolong advanced towards Gansu, he was unfortunately wounded by a stray bullet and died for country. After that, Qing Dynasty sent Yang Yuebin to Shaanxi, but he could not solve problem of food shortages in northwest, and Hunan army also collapsed. As a last resort, Empress Dowager Cixi appointed Zuo Zongtang as governor of Shaanxi and Gansu.

Ma Hualong didn't dare to take initiative to attack Zuo Zongtang, so he sent someone to contact Zhang Zongyu and asked him to set up a base in Shaanxi. As for Zhang Zongyu, he also wanted to use support of Hui people to make a career in Northwest. It can be seen that Ma Hualong and Zhang Zongyu used each other. In early days of Western Nian's army's entry into Shaanxi, they indeed achieved significant victories: they fought mobilely in Shaanxi, inflicting huge losses on Hunan army, and surrounded Xi'an.

The Hui army also took opportunity to advance east, constantly attacking Qing army in rear, leaving Qing army under attack by enemy. If a little careless, Duolong's efforts would be in vain. However, Zuo Zongtang was still in Hubei Province. He did not rush to Shaanxi and did not order Qing army to pursue Zhang Zongyu, but allowed Liu Songshan to guard Tongguan. What is this pass?

Secondly, Zuo Zongtang closed door and beat dog, and conflict broke out between two armies.

The Shaanxi-Gansu region, known in ancient times as Guanzhong and Guanxi, was fertile and wild during Qin and Han dynasties, so it was political and economic center of Han dynasty. However, under Tang Dynasty, ecology of Guanzhong deteriorated, and lands around Shaanxi and Gansu had already become barren, so since Song Dynasty, there has not been a single dynasty in China that would establish capital Xian. When Duolong pacified Shaanxi, a common problem that Qing army and Hui army faced was lack of food. Due to influx of a large number of Muslims into Gansu, Gansu experienced an acute shortage of food, and supply of food and grass to Hunan army was difficult, and advance into Gansu was difficult.

When Western Nian army advanced into Shaanxi, they found that Shaanxi was much less wealthy than Shandong and Henan, so in past it was difficult to replenish food and herbs by looting houses. The so-called imperial spirit in Guanzhong was suppressed. has long since dissipated. After Zhang Zongyu won several battles, there was a comprehensive food crisis in army. And Zuo Zongtang prepared food and herbs in Hubei because he already understood situation in Shaanxi. For these Nian troops entering Shaanxi, he planned to block them in passage and let them starve to death.

In addition, Hui army and Nian army are always different in nature, have different beliefs, and pursue different goals, so it is difficult to achieve true unity. In April, Hui army arrived in this county to fight alongside Nian army. Zhang Zongyu tried to dissuade Hui army from massacring Han people, but Hui army believed that Zhang Zongyu was protecting Han people, and conflicts between two sides began to appear. One day, when Nian army was fighting Qing army, Hui army unexpectedly attacked Nian army from behind, Zhang Zongyu became enraged and ordered Hui army to counterattack, suggesting "return Han, not plunder Han." Since then, large numbers of Shaanxi Han have joined Nian Zhang Zongyu's army to fight against Hui army.

Therefore, Zuo Zongtang cannot enter Shaanxi too late, otherwise Shaanxi will indeed become stronghold of Nian army. In July 1867, Zuo Zong left a total of 8,000 Chui and Sichuan soldiers to guard Tongguan, and then led 21,000 men to Guanzhong to level Nian, bringing Qing force in Shaanxi to 40,000. Zuo Zongtang's army was equipped with highest level of technology in Qing army, it had not only foreign guns and cannons, but also machine guns, so it was more than enough to fight Nian army. At that time, Nian army fortified in Pucheng, Fuping, Sanyuan and Jingyang, Jinghe River flowed in west, and Luohe and Yellow Rivers in east. Zuo Zongtang set a trap and deployed troops along Jingjing and Luo coasts, cutting connection between Hui and Nian in an attempt to destroy Nian army.

If Western Nian's army had been so besieged and destroyed, then Zhang Zongyu would not be considered a hero of last generation. He quickly discovered Zuo Zongtang's intentions, so he immediately led Nian army to retreat north, broke siege of Qing army, and entered northern Shaanxi. The ravines and gullies in northern Shaanxi are more barren and difficult to supply. At this time, Zhang Zongyu also had to contact Hui army again, repel pursuing Liu Songshan army, capture Suide, Yanchuan and other counties, and situation in northern Shaanxi was tense. Zuo Zongtang said in memorial: "South to north stretches over a thousand miles, and from west to east, over a thousand miles.".

Northern Shaanxi, however, has always been a barren land, and there is bound to be famine here for a long time to come. Moreover, conflict between Hui and Han was acute at time, and Zhang Zongyu no longer wanted to cooperate with Hui army. He seems to have realized that this was a conspiracy. The Hui army lured him to Shaanxi and then were used as cannon fodder. In winter of that year, Yellow River froze over, and Zhang Zongyu, having received a letter of distress from Lai Wenguang, without slightest hesitation, immediately led army through Yellow River and again moved to Northern China.

Third, "encircle Wei and save Zhao", but fell into a trap

This year, paths of New Nian Army parted ways. As a result, Eastern Nian Army was heavily abandoned by Li Hongzhang, and troops failed one by one. with Zuo Zongtang. Li Hongzhang and Zuo Zongtang improved their status by defeating Nian army. Therefore, it was most unfortunate year for Nian army. Now Zhang Zongyu finally realized that he should not waste time fighting for city and land, and robbing food and herbs. Now his goal is to directly attack Kyunggi.

To escape Liu Songshan's persecution, he first pretended to attack Taiyuan, then suddenly turned his troops south, crossed Zhongtiao Mountain, and arrived at Jiyuan, Henan Province. Henan and Shandong immediately sent large troops to stop them, and Zhang Zongyu immediately headed north, crossed Zhang River, entered Hebei territory, and advanced all way to Baoding.


This operation by Zhang Zongyu instantly caused panic in Qing court. Empress Dowager Cixi immediately ordered troops from all over country to go to "King of Qin", while Zuo Zongtang reviewed troops from all walks of life. Li Hongzhang was unhappy that he was not given top command and his Huai army stalled. To resolve dispute between Zuo and Li, Empress Dowager Cixi appointed Prince Gong Yixing as a general to lead various armies, with Zuo and Li as advisers. After such a series of measures, defense of Beijing front line became impenetrable.

Zhang Zongyu originally wanted to resolve Eastern Nian army's crisis by "surrounding Wei and saving Zhao", but this resulted in Western Nian army being besieged and failed one by one. The situation was very critical. Zhang Zongyu saw that there was no hope of going north, so he immediately led Xinian army to break through to south and entered Henan. In Henan, Zhang Zongyu took a short rest, replenished his supply of food and grass, and replaced all infantry with cavalry.

After that, Zuo Zongtang returned to Shaanxi and left Nian army to Li Hongzhang. Li Hongzhang wanted to create an encirclement ring between Taihang Mountain and Yellow River. Zhang Zongyu almost succeeded in this trick in Shaanxi. How could he not see Li Hongzhang's plot. He immediately led army in an attack to east, defeated besieging army of Qing army and moved to Shandong.

Map of major rivers in Shandong

Zhang Zongyu did not want to give up opportunity to go north to attack Beijing. After arriving in Shandong, he suddenly went north, and army headed straight for Tianjin. However, Prince Gong Yixin was already ready: he ordered Chonghou to lead a detachment of foreign guns to protect Tianjin and sent troops from northeast and Mongolia to Tianjin. After Western Nian army arrived in Tianjin, it was immediately overwhelmed by firepower of foreign artillery group. Zhang Zongyu saw that situation was not good, so he quickly withdrew to Shandong to "eat".

Shandong is still sad land of Nian army. The terrain here is relatively flat and there is plenty of food, nanny army likes to come here to rob food. However, Shandong is a peninsula with Jiaolai River and canal to west and Yellow River to north. As soon as Nian army entered Shandong peninsula, they were trapped by Qing army's "river defense". The Eastern Nian army went to Shandong in search of food and was besieged. In end, entire army was destroyed. Now Western Nian army has arrived.

Western Nian army's battle path

After eating and drinking in Shandong, Nian army took knives with them and rode on horseback, preparing to march west. But he found that canal and Yellow River were mostly fortified by Qing army. Zhang Zongyu hurriedly led Nian army to break through, but failed several times in a row. In June rainy season arrived and there was mud everywhere in Shandong, making it difficult for cavalry to move. Yi Li Hongzhang took opportunity to narrow down encirclement, and scope of Nian army's activities continued to shrink.

Soon, full Nian army was hungry again, and armies surrendered one by one. In July, Huai army and Nian army clashed with each other several times. The Nian army lost thousands of people at every turn, and no more than 7,000 people were lost at a time. Zhang Zongyu was also wounded. It can be said that Western Nian Army came to an end. In August, Zhang Zongyu clashed with Liu Mingchuan's forces during a breakthrough and entire army was annihilated. Of course, most surprising thing is that Zhang Zongyu led 18 people to escape, and their whereabouts are unknown, probably incognito.

As a hero of a generation, Zhang Zongyu is truly a well-known general of a generation. The nian army led by him fought such famous generals as Sen Gelinqin, Zeng Guofan, Li Hongzhang, Zuo Zongtang, Liu Mingchuan, and others, and did not feel inferior in least. After all, they suffered from lack of a stable base and advanced weapons, and in end were surrounded and destroyed, but he was able to escape from there and remained unharmed, which is a miracle. But no matter what, Zhang Zongyu did not change character of outcast bandits of Nian army and sowed chaos in north, prolonging time for suppressing uprising, and also brought great disaster to Chinese people.

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