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British general Charles Gordon became a national hero for his exploits in China and his ill-fated defence of
Khartoum against Sudanese rebels. The son of Lieut.-General Henry William Gordon, R.A, an artillery officer,
Gordon was born in Woolwich in 1833, one of eleven children, 5 girls and six boys. A close knit family, Gordon
gained much comfort from them. He was especially close to his sister Emily and her death at age sixteen, when he
was ten, devastated him. His eldest sister, Augusta, later became his closest confidant.  She was the first to point
him in the direction of religion and it was to her he first wrote regarding his evangelical conversion.

In 1848 he entered the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich as a gentleman cadet intending to follow in his father's
footsteps and join the Artillery. However due to a lack of self discipline (most likely from a lack of interest in Artillery)  
he was put back and he graduated in 1852 and as commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers.
Gordon's first post  was the Engineer's depot at Brompton near Gillingham and then to Pembroke Dock in Wales,
then under construction by the Royal Engineers. It was here in 1853 that Gordon was converted to faith in Christ
under the ministry of a fellow Engineer officer who became one of his closest friends.

His letters to Augusta show a concern for his soul and a desire to die "in the Lord" meaning not as some would say a
death wish, but his developing realization that heaven is preferable to earth. He distinguished himself in the Crimean
War (1853-56).  After building winter quarters for the troops he was able to obtain a front line position mapping the
Russian trenches. In order to do this he had to look over the parapet and then sketch out what he was able to see --
a duty which had sent many engineers to their grave. Gordon seemed somewhat surprised and maybe a bit
disappointed that he did not, as so many of his comrades had died (classic survivor's guilt.) Present at the siege of
Sevastopol, he was mentioned in dispatches for his bravery and decorated by the French.

In 1860 volunteered for the 'Arrow' war against the Chinese (the second Opium War.)  In May 1862 Gordon's corps
of engineers was assigned to strengthen the European trading centre of Shanghai, which was threatened by the
insurgents of the Taiping Rebellion. A year later he became commander of the 3,500-man peasant force raised to
defend the city, known as the Ever Victorious Army or EVA.. During the next 18 months Gordon's troops played an
important role in suppressing the Taiping uprising. Gordon infused discipline into his troops and led them into battle
from the front carrying only a walking stick. When he refused to allow them to loot captured cities, they mutinied. His
response to suppress the mutiny was to  first shoot dead one of the ringleaders and then threaten to shoot one  
mutineer an hour until the mutiny was over. It was over inside the hour. Soochow was captured by the EVA in 1864
after the Taipings surrendered to Gordon when he offered them safe conduct. Gordon was away on business when
the Manchus had the Wangs, the leaders of the Taipings, executed. Gordon was furious and promptly resigned his
command. He only returned after being implored to by the British and being promoted to the rank of Mandarin in the
Chinese army. He refused an offer of 100,000 gold pieces by the emperor. This reinforced Gordon's reputation as
being incorruptible. He returned to England in January 1865, where an enthusiastic public had already dubbed him
'Chinese Gordon'. The British rewarded him with a promotion to Lieutenant Colonel and he became a Companion of
Honour.

He was posted to Gravesend in October 1865 as the Commandant of Engineers in charge of renovating the Lower
Thames forts in Gravesend and Tilbury. It was shortly after his arrival that he received word his father was dying. He
hurried to his side and nursed him until his death. A brother died shortly after this and because of these two deaths
he resolved to stop being superficial about religion. During his Gravesend assignment Gordon threw himself into
social work, putting into practice the evangelical beliefs he had adopted earlier. He did much work with the Ragged
School and several other charitable organizations, including supporting several poor people with pensions equalling
90% of his Colonel's pay of £3,000 a year. He continued to maintain these pensions in the years after he left
Gravesend.

He was appointed governor of the province of Equatoria in the Sudan in  1873. Beginning in April 1874 he mapped
the upper Nile and established a line of stations along the river as far south as present Uganda finishing these
endeavors in December of 1876. At this time he was promoted  to governor-general, where he asserted his
authority, crushing rebellions and suppressing the slave trade. He also became a big proponent of home rule during
this time which did not make him a very popular person with the government in Britain. However, ill health forced him
to resign and return to England in 1880.

The government then posted him to India as the Private Secretary to the Viceroy. His travels included China and
South Africa.

In February 1884 Gordon was returned to the Sudan to conduct an orderly evacuation of the European refugees,
British and Egyptian forces from Khartoum, threatened by Sudanese rebels led by Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi (a
self styled designation,al-Mahdi means the messiah.) From
Islamic History Sourcebook: Alfred Egmont Hake: The
Death of General Gordon at Khartoum, 1885:
"GENERAL GORDON arrived at Khartoum on February 18th, and spent his time between that date and the
investment on March 12, in sending down women and children, two thousand of whom were sent safely
through to Egypt, in addition to six hundred soldiers. It was stated by Sir Evelyn Baring (English
consul-general to Egypt) that there were fifteen thousand persons in Khartoum who ought to be brought
back to Egypt---Europeans, civil servants, widows and orphans, and a garrison of one thousand men, one
third of whom were disaffected. To get these people out of Khartoum was General Gordon's first duty, and
the first condition of evacuation was the establishment of a stable government in the Soudan. The only man
who could establish that government was Zebehr. Gordon demanded Zebehr with ever-increasing
emphasis, and his request was decisively refused. He had then two alternatives --either to surrender
absolutely to the Mahdi, or to hold on to Khartoum at all hazards. While Gordon was strengthening his
position the Mahdi settled the question by suddenly assuming the offensive. The first step in this memorable
siege was the daring march of four thousand Arabs to the Nile, by which, on March 12, they cut off the eight
hundred men at Halfaya, a village to the north of Khartoum, from the city. A steamer was sent down to
reconnoiter, and the moment she reached the front of the Arab position a volley was fired into her, wounding
an officer and a soldier. The steamer returned the fire, killing five.

"Thus hostilities began. "Our only justification for assuming the offensive," wrote General Gordon on March
13, "is the extrication of the Halfaya garrison." The Arabs, however, did not give him the chance. They cut
off three companies of his troops who had gone out to cut wood, capturing eight of their boats, and killing or
dispersing one hundred to one hundred and fifty men. They intrenched themselves along the Nile, and kept
up a heavy rifle-fire. Retreat for the garrison was obviously impossible when the Arab force covered the
river, the only line of retreat, with their fire. Twelve hundred men rere put on board two grain-barges, towed
by three steamers defended with boiler plates, and carrying mountain-guns protected by wooden mantlets;
and, with the loss of only two killed, they succeeded in extricating the five hundred men left of the garrison of
Halfaya, and capturing seventy camels and eighteen horses, with which they returned to Khartoum."
The Government were implored by everyone, including the Queen, to send a relief mission. They refused until
October 1884, Gladstone, the prime minister, was furious at Gordon for, apparently, disobeying his orders. (We
know from his journals that Gordon did not feel that he could safely evacuate due to the lack of suitable boats.
)
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