Genghis Khan - Jacob Abbott

Battles And Sieges

After the fall of Bokhara and Otrar, the war was continued for two years with great vigor by Genghis Khan and the Monguls, and the poor sultan was driven from place to place by his merciless enemies, until at last his cause was wholly lost, and he himself, as will appear in the next chapter, came to a miserable end.

During the two years while Genghis Khan continued the war against him, a great many incidents occurred illustrating the modes of warfare practiced in those days, and the sufferings which were endured by the mass of the people in consequence of these terrible struggles between rival despots contending for the privilege of governing them.

At one time Genghis Khan sent his son Jughi with a large detachment to besiege and take a certain town named Saganak. As soon as Jughi arrived before the place, he sent in a flag of truce to call upon the people of the town to surrender, promising, at the same time, to treat them kindly if they would do so.

The bearer of the flag was a Mohammedan named Hassan. Jughi probably thought that the message would be better received by the people of the town if brought to them by one of their own countrymen, but he made a great mistake in this. The people, instead of being pleased with the messenger because he was a Mohammedan, were very much exasperated against him. They considered him a renegade and a traitor; and, although the governor had solemnly promised that he should be allowed to go and come in safety, so great a tumult arose that the governor found it impossible to protect him, and the poor man was torn to pieces by the mob.

Jughi immediately assaulted the town with all his force, and as soon as he got possession of it he slaughtered without mercy all the officers and soldiers of the garrison, and killed also about one half of the inhabitants, in order to avenge the death of his murdered messenger. He also caused a handsome monument to be erected to his memory in the principal square of the town.

Jughi treated the inhabitants of every town that dared to resist with extreme severity, while those that yielded at once were, in some degree, spared and protected. The consequence of this policy was that the people of many of the towns surrendered without attempting to defend themselves at all. In one case the magistrates and other principal inhabitants of a town came out to meet him a distance of two days' journey from them, bringing with them the keys of the town, and a great quantity of magnificent presents, all of which they laid at the conqueror's feet, and implored his mercy.

There was one town which Jughi's force took by a kind of stratagem. A certain engineer, whom he employed to make a reconnoissance of the fortifications, reported that there was a place on one side of the town where there was a ditch full of water outside of the wall, which made the access to the wall there so difficult that the garrison would not be at all likely to expect an attack on that side. The engineer proposed a plan for building some light bridges, which the soldiers were to throw over the ditch in the night, after having drawn off the attention of the garrison to some other quarter, and then, mounting upon the walls by means of ladders, to get into the town. This plan was adopted. The bridges and the ladders were prepared, and then, when the appointed night came, a feigned attack was made in the opposite part of the town. The garrison were then all called off to repel this pretended attack, and in this way the wall opposite to the ditch was left undefended. The soldiers then threw the bridges over the ditch, and planted the ladders against the wall, and before the garrison could get intelligence of what they were doing they had made their way into the town, and had opened one of the gates, and by this means the whole army got in. The engineer himself, who had proposed the plan, went up first on the first ladder that was planted against the wall. To take the lead in such an escalade required great coolness and courage, for it was dark, and no one knew, in going up the ladder, how many enemies he might have to encounter at the top of it.

The next place which the army of Jughi approached was a quiet and beautiful town, the seat of several institutions of learning, and the residence of learned men and men of leisure. It was a very pleasant place, full of fountains, gardens, and delightful pleasure-grounds, with many charming public and private promenades. The name of this place was Toukat, and the beauty and attractiveness of it were proverbial through all the country.

Toukat was a place rather of pleasure than of strength, and yet it was surrounded by a wall, and the governor of it determined to make an effort to defend it. The garrison fought bravely, and they kept the besiegers off for three days. At the end of that time the engines of the Monguls had made so many breaches in the walls that the governor was convinced that they would soon get in, and so he sent to Jughi to ask for the terms on which he would allow them to surrender. Jughi replied that he would not now make any terms with him at all. It was too late. He ought to have surrendered at the beginning.

So the Mongul army forced its way into the town, and slaughtered the whole garrison without mercy. Jughi then ordered all the inhabitants, men, women, and children, to repair to a certain place on the plain outside the walls. In obedience to this command, all the people went to the appointed place. They went with fear and trembling, expecting that they were all to be killed. But they found, in the end, that the object of Jughi in bringing them thus out of the town was not to kill them, but only to call them away from the houses, so that the soldiers could plunder them more conveniently while the owners were away. After being kept out of the town for a time they were allowed to return, and when they went back to their houses they found that they had been pillaged and stripped of every thing that the soldiers could carry away.

There was another large and important town named Kojend. It was situated two or three hundred miles to the northward of Samarcand, on the River Sir, which flows into Aral Lake. The governor of this city was Timur Melek. He was a very powerful chieftain, and a man of great military renown, having often been in active service under the sultan as one of the principal generals of his army. When Timur heard of the fall of Toukat, he presumed that his city of Kojend would be next attacked, as it seemed to come next in the way of the Mongul army; so he began to make vigorous preparations for defense. He broke up all the roads leading toward the town, and destroyed the bridges. He also laid in great supplies of food to maintain the inhabitants in case of a protracted siege, and he ordered all the corn, fruits, and cattle of the surrounding country, which he did not require for this purpose, to be taken away and stowed in secret places at a distance, to prevent their falling into the hands of the enemy.

Jughi did not himself attack this town, but sent a large detachment under the orders of a general named Elak Nevian. Elak advanced toward the city and commenced his operations. The first thing that was to be done was to rebuild a bridge over the river, so as to enable him to gain access to the town, which was on the opposite bank. Then he set up immense engines at different points along the line, some of which were employed to batter down the walls, and others, at the same time, to throw stones, darts, and arrows over the parapets, in order to drive the garrison back from them. These engines did great execution. Those built to batter down the walls were of great size and power. Some of them, it was said, threw stones over the wall as big as millstones.

Timur Melek was equally active in the defense of the town. He built a number of flat-bottomed boats, which might be called floating batteries, since they were constructed for throwing missiles of all sorts into the camp of the enemy. These batteries, it is said, were covered over on the top to protect the men, and they had port-holes in the sides, like a modern man-of-war, out of which, not cannon balls and bomb-shells indeed, but arrows, darts, javelins, and stones were projected. The boats were sent out, some on the upper side of the town and some on the lower, and were placed in stations where they could most effectually reach the Mongul works. They were the means of killing and wounding great multitudes of men, and they greatly disturbed and hindered the besiegers' operations.

Still Elak persevered. He endeavored to shut up the city on every side as closely as possible; but there was on one side a large morass or jungle which he could not guard, and Timur received a great many re-enforcements, to take the place of the men who were killed on the walls, by that way. In the mean time, however, Elak was continually receiving re-enforcements too from Prince Jughi, who was not at a great distance; and thus the struggle was continued with great fury.

At last Timur contrived an ingenious stratagem, by which he hoped to cause his enemy to fall into a snare. It seems that there was a small island in the river, not far from the walls of the city, on which, before the siege commenced, Timur had built a fortress, to be held as a sort of advanced post, and had garrisoned the fortress with about one thousand men. Timur now, in order to divert the attention of the Mongols from the city itself, sent a number of men out from the city, who pretended to be deserters, and went immediately to the Mongul camp. Of course, Elak questioned them about the defenses of the city, in order to learn where the weak points were for him to attack. The pretended deserters advised him to attack this fortress on the island, saying that it could very easily be taken, and that its situation was such that, when it was taken, the city itself must surrender, for it completely commanded the place.

So Elak caused his principal engines to be removed to the bank of the river, opposite the island, and employed all his energies and spent all his ammunition in shooting at the fortress; but the river was so wide, and the walls of the fortress were so thick and so high, that he made very little impression. At last his whole supply of stones—for stones served in those days instead of cannon balls—was exhausted, and as the town was situated in an alluvial district, in which no stones were to be found, he was obliged to send ten or twelve miles to the upland to procure a fresh supply of ammunition. All this consumed much time, and enabled the garrison to recruit themselves a great deal and to strengthen their defenses.

The operations of the siege were in a great measure suspended while the men were obtaining a new supply of stones, and the whole disposable force of the army was employed in going back and forth to bring them. At length an immense quantity were collected; but then the Mongul general changed his plan. Instead of throwing the stones from his engines toward the fortress on the island, which it had been proved was beyond his reach, he determined to build out a jetty into the river toward it, so as to get a stand-point for his engines nearer the walls, where they could have some chance of doing execution. So he set his men at work to prepare fascines, and bundles, and rafts of timber, which were to be loaded with the stones and sunk in the river to form the foundation for the proposed bank. The men would bring the stones down to the bank in their hands, and then horsemen, who were ready on the brink, would take them, and, resting them on the saddle, would drive their horses in until they came near the place where the stones were to go, when they would throw them down and then return for others. In this way they could work upon the jetty in many parts at once, some being employed in building at the end where it abutted on the shore, while the horsemen were laying the foundations at the same time out in the middle of the stream. The work of the horsemen was very difficult and dangerous, on account of holes in the sandy bottom of the river, into which they were continually sinking. Besides this, the garrison on the walls were doing their utmost all the time to impede the work by shooting arrows, javelins, stones, and fiery darts among the workmen, by which means vast numbers, both of men and horses, were killed.

The Monguls, however, persevered, and, notwithstanding all the opposition which the garrison made, they succeeded in advancing the mole which they were building so far that Timur was convinced that they would soon gain so advantageous a position that it would be impossible for him to hold out against them. So he determined to attempt to make his escape. His plan was to embark on board his boats, with all his men, and go down the river in the night.

In order to prepare for this undertaking, he employed his men secretly in building more boats, until he had in all more than seventy. These boats were kept out of sight, in hidden places in the river, until all were ready. Each of them was covered with a sort of heavy awning or roof, made of wet felt, which was plastered over with a coating of clay and vinegar. This covering was intended both to defend the men from missiles and the boats themselves from being set on fire.

There was one obstacle to the escape of the boats which it was necessary to remove beforehand, and that was the bridge which the Monguls had built across the river, just below the town, when they first came to besiege it. To destroy this bridge, Timur one night made a sally from one of the gates, and attacked the men who were stationed to guard the bridge. At the same time he sent down the current of the river a number of great flat-bottomed boats, filled with combustibles of various kinds, mixed with tar and naphtha. These combustibles were set on fire before they were launched, and, as the current of the river bore them down one after another against the bridge, they set the wooden piers and posts that supported it on fire, while the guard, being engaged with the party which had sallied from the town, could not go to extinguish the flames, and thus the bridge was consumed.

The way being thus opened, Timur Melek very soon afterward embarked his family and the greater part of his army on board the boats in the night; and, while the Monguls had no suspicion of what was going on, the boats were launched, and sent off one after another swiftly down the stream. Before morning came all traces of the party had passed away.

Very soon, however, the Mongul general heard how his intended prey had escaped him, and he immediately sent off a strong detachment to follow the southern bank of the river and pursue the fugitives. The detachment soon overtook them, and then a furious battle ensued between the Mongul horsemen on the banks and in the margin of the water and the men in the boats, who kept the boats all the time as near as possible to the northern shore.

Sometimes, however, when the stream was narrow, or when a rocky point projected from the northern shore, so as to drive the boats nearer to the Mongul side, the battle became very fierce and bloody. The Monguls drove their horses far into the water, so as to be as near as possible to the boats, and threw arrows, javelins, and fiery darts at them, while the Mohammedans defended themselves as well as they could from their windows or port-holes.

Mongals fighting the Persians


Things went on in this way for some time, until, at length, the boats arrived at a part of the river where the water was so shallow—being obstructed by sand-bars and shoals—that the boats fell aground. There was nothing now for Timur to do but to abandon the boats and escape with his men to the land. This he succeeded in doing; and, after reaching the shore, he was able to form his men in array, on an elevated piece of ground, before Elak could bring up a sufficient number of men to attack him.

When the Monguls at length came to attack him, he beat them off in the first instance, but he was obliged soon afterward to leave the field and continue his retreat. Of course, he was hotly pursued by the Monguls. His men became rapidly thinned in number, some being killed, and others getting separated from the main body in the confusion of the flight, until at last, Timur was left almost alone. At last he was himself on the very point of being taken. There were three Monguls closely pursuing him. He turned round and shot an arrow at the foremost of the pursuers. The arrow struck the Mongul in the eye. The agony which the wounded man felt was so great that the two others stopped to assist him, and in the mean time, Timur got out of the way. In due time, and after meeting with some other hairbreadth escapes, he reached the camp of the sultan, who received him very joyfully, loaded him with praises for the indomitable spirit which he had evinced, and immediately made him governor of another city.

In the mean time, some of the boats which had been abandoned by the soldiers were got off by the men who had been left in charge of them—one especially, which contained the family of Timur. This boat went quietly down the river, and conveyed the family to a place of safety.

The city of Kojend, from which Timur and his men had fled, was, of course, now without any means of defense, and it surrendered the very next day to the Monguls.