The opening phases of the 1827 campaign
     
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I. The Fabric of History

II. The Hegemonic Crisis of the City of Angels

III. The Realignment of the Lao as their power disintegrates

IV. Many Provocations and Anou's response

V. The Opening phases of the 1827 campaign

VI. The Military phase of the 1827 campaign

VII. Maps of LanXang

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The opening phases of the 1827 campaign


35. CHAO ANOU'S WEB OF COMMUNICATIONS


Outnumbered and overpowered in the battles of 1827, Anou resorted to psychological methods to influence the morale of his followers, his adversaries, and those he hoped to neutralize if not draw to his side. The strategies employed by Anou and his men demonstrated their impressive ability to manipulate opinion and the discourse of diplomacy.

For instance, Anou exchanged polite correspondence with Rama III after the Lao armies had already taken Kalasin. In fact, Anou's letter to Rama III was dated the day before the Lao advance guard, led by Ratsavong, departed from the garrison town of Phan Phao, opposite Vientiane. The letter was delivered to the Siamese governor of Ayudhya at a time when Chao Ratsavong had evacuated the inhabitants from Saraburi and was pulling back toward Khorat, where Anou awaited him. Anou, however, explained the troop movements in courtly rhetoric that veiled his antipathy for the Thai ruler. Anou's letter reads:

Humbly, I place my head under the foot's dust of your August Majesty. On Wednesday, the thirteenth day of the waning moon of the tenth month of the year of the Dog [September 14, 18261, Chao Ratsavong returned to Vientiane with your two supha akson [ordinances], the content of which covers many points that are addressed to me, as well as a copy of the British treaty in fourteen articles. Your Majesty has expressed his expectation that if something happened, I should immediately go [to Bangkok] to help you without any hesitation. Your Majesty ordered that if an official ordinance containing official instructions reached me, I must not waste my time but should immediately bring an army to assist your Majesty. My devotion to your Majesty [in your desire] to accomplish the present service is total. Only one British vessel arrived. But the peasants, oppressed by the British, have fled in great disorder, for the population of the Kingdom [of Siam] has been victimized with unbearable injuries. There is no town where men have not been forced to sell children and wives. Those who can tolerate it hide in their homes. The others have no choice but to flee to the forest. The Lao can do nothing but take refuge with me, and it is beyond my capacity to forbid them. Even if I wished to visit your Majesty in Bangkok so that you could

 


 

35. CHAO ANOU'S WEB OF COMMUNICATIONS


direct me, circumstances prohibit it, for I am here only to counter the situation. As it has been stated in the order that you forwarded to me, the Burmese are plotting with the British, and together they will constitute a very strong force. The Burmese will attack by land and the British by the sea. In consequence, I have sent Chao Upparat [Tissal to be posted at Muang Roi- Et, Chao Thong at Miiang Suwannaphum, Chao Passak [Yo] at Muang Ubon, Phya Sai at Muang Lomsak, and myself at Nakhon Ratchasima, so that once your order of requisition reaches me, everything will be ready and I will be able to bring immediately an army to protect your Majesty in Bangkok. I can certainly recruit ten thousand able men; the Lao of all towns, the number of which is known by your Majesty because the Lao peasants were registered with tattoos, the inhabitants of Muang Nakhon Ratchasima, and those of my own [country] who are not included [in the census by tattooing], will constitute a sufficient number to oppose the British. In order to best serve your Majesty, I intend to organize a reserve army; the Suai Khmer can provide more than twenty thousand able men. This will reduce the burden of professional soldiers. I will use coercion against those who do not submit to my authority. Please, your Majesty, above all do not think I betray you. If I wanted to go to Bangkok to put my head under the dust of your Majesty's foot, this would certainly exceed the royal will; my fault would then be punishable by death. The day I will have achieved everything, I will ask for an audience with your Majesty.1


When the letter arrived in Bangkok, the royal Brahmans of Rama III immediately understood the code. They noted in their diary, 'the twelfth day of the waning moon of the third (lunar) month, we are informed that Chao Vientiane [Anou] is in revolt.,,2 On the same day Anou's letter arrived in Bangkok, the court of Bangkok ordered the governor of Songkhla to mobilize; the order went out with extraordinary rapidity.

The prince of Vientiane is planning a revolt against Bangkok, and is heading to Nakhon Ratchasima with his armies. Their strength is unknown. But he has sent more than three thousand men to Saraburi under the command of Chao Ratsavong. We do not know how many others will join him later at this place. The king has sent Bangkok armies to fight them along numerous roads, but the situation is still unclear. In consequence, you are ordered to mobilize ... You must hurry to Bangkok immediately ... Come by land or by boat ... You must not waste one hour.3


1 Anou's letter, dated January 15, 1827, reached Bangkok on Friday, February 23, 1827. It is mentioned in the copy held at the Thai National Library that Phya Phrornrna bore the letter. The Thai copy of the letter is TNL Document Rama III (6) 1188/20. It is published in Ruam ruang miuang nakhon ratchasima (1968) (T), pp. 27-29; Dhawaj (1980) (T), pp. 155-56; Prathip (1982) (T), pp. 35-38. The sentence, "Only one British vessel arrived,' in Chao Anou's letter, likely echoed rumors circulated by the Siamese court about Henry Burney, who succeeded in having the Thai court relinquish the fourteen hundred Mons captured by Bangkok troops in slave raids in Tenasserim after the Burmese defeat in 1811. The Mons were carried back to Burma by Bumey's ship, Guardian, and six junks. Hall (1974), pp. 60,132.

2 Chotmai hon (1965) (T), p. 106.

3 TNL Document Rama III (3) 1188/2.

 


 

35. CHAO ANOU'S WEB OF COMMUNICATIONS


Consequently, members of the Bangkok bureaucracy knew the details of the situation well before the Lao reached Khorat, and eagerly awaited Anou's arrival so they could unleash their full force.

Not only did Anou employ deceptive courtly discourse in letters to the Thai king, he also used indirect language to sway potential Lao allies. Two themes invoked ambiguously in Anou's first letter-his duty to assist Rama III and the threat of Anglo-Burmese collusion- resurfaced in a missive Anou sent to the king of Luang Prabang. The king summarized the letter in this way when forwarding the information to Bangkok:

Sunday, the fifth day of the waxing moon of the third month of the year of the Dog [February 11, 18271, Chao Anou of Vientiane sent Nak Phumin to inform me of an anticipated attack by the British and the Burmese on Krungthep; this will be a big conflict. It will provoke the flight of the frightened population. Thus, he has sent an army to Khon Khuang [where Ratsavong located his headquarters when evacuating the inhabitants from Saraburil to wait for orders from the King [of Siam]. He asks me for rice and also to send representatives to fetch peoples brought back from Saraburi by [Ratsavong] in order to repatriate them to Luang Prabang.4

 Anou repeatedly attempted to exploit the fear of an impending Anglo-Burmese attack on Bangkok, which was a legitimate fear in the minds of both Siamese and Lao, to persuade local elites on the Khorat Plateau to follow him. Elites in Siam's vassal states would necessarily have considered any act directed against Rama III rebellious, even if they supported Anou. Anou's subterfuge allowed these leaders to maintain the fiction necessary for their peace of mind; that is, by Oying themselves with the Lao, they could believe they were also helping Rama III. It is plausible, too, that Anou hoped to keep his options open; perhaps, he thought he could renew his relations with Rama III once he consolidated Lao independence. In fact, he allowed Suryaphakdi, the Siamese official who had directed a large part of the infamous tattooing campaign, to travel safely to Bangkok, and in a letter, he even asked Suryaphakdi to pay his, Anou's, respects to the Siamese king when he relayed the Lao version of the conflict to Rama 111. In this letter, Anou referred to the unhappiness of the people, but refrained from mentioning the real cause of their dissatisfaction: the tattooing decreed by Rama III. Anou urged Suryaphakdi to inform Rama III that he, Anou, was


... not a rebel. The inhabitants of Muang Nakhon Ratchasima as well as those of Saraburi complain that the governor and his officials [of Khorat] have mistreated them. By their own initiative, these unfortunates want to resettle in Vientiane. Therefore he [Anoul had to send an army to fetch them.5


 

4 Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 64; TNL Document Rama III (35) 1189/10 kai, suppha-akson of Chao Luang Prabang to Akkhara Mahasenathibodi. The king of Luang Prabang made this report after Anou's defeat.

5 Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), p. 44.

 


 

35. CHAO ANOU'S WEB OF COMMUNICATIONS

When Rama III sent Vice King Bowon with the Bangkok
armies to repress Anou, Anou brilliantly used this
to his advantage. He sent embassies to Chiang Mai,
Nan, Lampang, and Lamphun, bearing the message
that he, as well the rulers of these principalities
and kingdoms, should gather to help Rama III resist
a coup perpetrated by Bowon.6 Perhaps to the local
elites, Anou's arguments were plausible; Anou was
known to have given his daughter as harem consort
to Rama III.7 However, recipients of Anou's message
may also have read between the lines and immediately
understood that Bowon's supposed coup was a fiction.

The Lao drew on knowledge of local situations to
camouflage their preparations for battle. For example,
Anou convinced the elders of Ban Phrao to gather
manpower and resources by arguing that the Lao of
Vientiane needed to contribute substantially to the
work force required to erect the Meru for Rama II's
funeral ceremony in February 1827.8 But even more
often, Anou and his partisans reported false news
of international tensions to mislead the badly
informed ruling elites of the various local
administrations. Passing by Khorat on his way to
Saraburi, Chao Ratsavong informed local officials
of a combined attack by the Vietnamese and the
British against Bangkok.9 The choice of the
Vietnamese enemy was not accidental-it was meant
to inflame a long-standing animosity that the
residents of Khorat felt against the Vietnamese. 10
The local officials accepted Ratsavong's story
as truth, though they were surprised that
Ratsavong had brought so few troops to face
an enemy as terrible as the Vietnamese. Anou's son,
with tongue in cheek, replied that his father
was following him with a huge army, strengthened
by people from Luang Prabang and Nan.11

Anou maintained political subterfuge even with
the "Lao of Khorat," those Bangkok emissaries
sent to inform Anou that Siam's armies would
soon attack him, when he asserted that:

... he never had any intention of making a raid
on Bangkok or of clashing with its armies.
According to his intelligence, Vietnam and
Chiang Mai were going to assault Bangkok. For
this reason, peasants were fleeing. He had to
come and fetch them and bring them back to
Vientiane.12

To well-informed Bangkok officials, like the
"Lao of Khorat," Anou preferred to claim that
the Vietnamese and the rulers of Lan Na, rather
than the British and Burmese, were the ones
who planned to attack Bangkok. It was a more
plausible

6 TNL Document Rama RI (60) 1189/11 khoi.

7 The conflict between Rama III and Bowon was real, as demonstrated above. After Bowon died in 1832, Rama III did not name a replacement for him. Many sources confirm that Anou's daughter was Rama Ill's concubine. See Bodin's comment as reported in Ngo Cao Lang (V), p. 98; also, see Traduction de l'histoire de Vien-chan, p. 18. The Lao princess was Nang Kaeokumari. Interview, Maha Kikeo Oudom, Vientiane, April 21, 1988. He relies on the proceedings of a seminar in history held at the Mahasarakham Teachers Training College.

8 TNL Document Rama III (78) 1189/11 ngu. Ban Phrao is a Vientiane village located on the border of Vientiane and Khorat.

9 Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), p. 43.

10 A governor of Khukhan once had been demoted by Khorat officials because he was too polite to the Vietnamese bullock dealers.

11 Kulap (1971) (T), p. 178.

12 TNL Document Rama El[ (9) 1188/20.

 


 

35. CHAO ANOU'S WEB OF COMMUNICATIONS

story, and, luckily, difficult to corroborate. Meanwhile,
embassies sent by the Lao to the rulers of Lan Na
invited them to act in concert with Anou. Casually,
Anou's representatives also mentioned that Lan Na's
refusal to assist Anou would not spoil his plans
since he could easily win the struggle against
Bangkok with promised help from the Vietnamese.13
Anou was like the craftsmen who, in periods of famine,
create an obese Buddha. It is difficult to know if
Chao Anou successfully manipulated the Lan Na rulers,
but apparently those rulers were calculating and
weighing the benefits each side had to offer in the
midst of these diplomatic misinformation campaigns.
Lan Na resisted Rama III's pressure to send their
armies to join with the Siamese armies against Anou,
and even dared to ask the Siamese envoy to give
them detailed figures of the forces deployed by
Bangkok, for like many others in the region, they
would choose whom to support based on their
assessment of the relative powers of the opponents,
not out of friendship with Anou or duty to Rama III.14

The court at Bangkok had anticipated Anou would also
approach the Vietnamese. In order to preempt his
efforts to engage the Vietnamese as allies, Siam's
leaders sent an envoy to convince Le Van Duyet, a
Vietnamese marshal known for his antipathy toward
Siam, that Anou's rebellion was an isolated action
and that the powerful, numerous Lao of Lan Na were
allied with Bangkok and would help Siam seize
Vientiane.15 Borrowing a trick from their enemy,
the Siamese armies then delivered a letter to the
Lao camp at Khorat, which reported that Chiang Mai
forces were pillaging Vientiane.16

Anou's best weapon was his ability skillfully to
manipulate potential allies and enemies through a
carefully conceived, daring web of misinformation.
On the battlefield itself, however, this weapon
was no match for superior numbers and arms.

36. THE TYRANNY OF NUMBERS


In his letter to Rama 111, Anou neglected to mention that Ratsavong and Sutthisan were his field commanders, and instead listed those who would cause the Siamese king little concern; men like Chao Upparat Tissa at Roi-Et, Chao Thong at Muang Suwannaphum, Chao Yo at Muang Ubon, Phya Sai at Lomsak, and himself at Khorat. Anou reported that the strength of the whole disposition amounted to ten thousand able men, with a contingency reserve of twenty thousand.

An assistant to Phagna Phimphisan, responsible for compiling statistics for the kingdom of Vientiane, provided a more detailed calculation of the Lao forces. According to this Lao official, Anou's advance force totaled five thousand men armed with four hundred flintlocks, under the command of Chao Ratsavong and assisted by Vientiane's best officers, including Phagna Sanon, Phagna Upparacha, Phagna Supho, Phagna Nam Hung, and Phagna Muang Song. The armies entrusted to Chao Upparat Tissa alone comprised ten thousand men, according to this report. Tissa was supported by Phagna Muang Khwa, Phagna Muang Kham, and Phagna


13 TNL Document Rama HI (18) 1189/4.

14 TNL Document Rama HI (19) 1189/4.

15 TNL Document Rama HI (69) 1189/11 chan.

16 TNL Document Rama III (12) 1188/20.

 


36. THE TYRANNY OF NUMBERS


Muang Phaen. Anou, assisted by Chao Sutthisan, led ten thousand men equipped with twelve hundred flintiocks.17

An eyewitness, debriefed by the Thai army after having been captured, did not mention the forces under Chao Yo, Chao Thong, and Phya Sai. However, he did estimate that the total Lao force numbered twenty-five thousand men, armed with twenty-seven hundred flintlocks. From this, one can conclude that only one to two guns existed for every ten men. This ratio remained constant even during the most critical battles of the campaign, such as those fought at Mun Kheng and Nong Bua Lam Phu,18 suggesting that this ratio of guns to men probably held steady throughout the Lao armies.19 Eyewitnesses mentioned only one Lao cannon replete with nine to ten cannon balls for the whole campaign. The lone cannon was used in the last battle, near Vientiane.20 The Lao mounted five cannons on the walls surrounding Vientiane to protect the Lao capital, but these were so cumbersome and ineffective that Bowon compared them to Lenten candles.21 Handicapped by the Siamese ban m making arms or maintaining a standing army except by special order from Bangkok, Lao tributary states had to improvise war materials rapidly at the end of 1826. The scarcity of equipment in the Lao camp is strikingly demonstrated by Anou's inability to provide arms to his closest ally, the governor of Khukhan, who traveled personally to Khorat to request them.22 Lao armies ran out of ammunition to supply even the few flintlocks they had, and in one of the most critical battles, at Nong Bua Lam Phu, the Lao resorted to using pebbles in place of bullets. Most of the men in the Lao armies must have made their own weapons of lances or taken up the axes they normally used to chop wood.23

Most of the statements by witnesses who attested that Anou could muster a force of approximately twenty-five thousand men were recorded in the royal chronicle of Bangkok, and one can find additional Thai sources as well that estimate the number of Anou's soldiers to have exceeded twenty thousand. The Thai chronicler, Chaophraya Thiphakorawong, nephew of Rama III and high-ranking official during the reign of Rama IV, reported that Anou had twenty thousand soldiers camping at Khorat.24 Yet still other sources of information suggest that these figures are substantially inflated; it appears, for instance, that the figure Chaophraya Thiphakorawong cited was one that Anou himself trumpeted through the countryside to impress potential allies as he approached Khorat. Siamese generalissimo Bowon was stricter in his assessment of the Lao soldiery. He wrote in his report to Rama III at the end of the 1827 campaign, that "Vientiane and its satellites in ordinary times have twenty thousand men available for drafting, and


17 TNL Document Rama III (64) 1189 / 11 khwai.

18 One source gives the following figures: 190 flintiocks for 3,100 men at Nong Bua Lam Phu; two hundred for two thousand soldiers at Mun Kheng; Anou had about two to three hundred guns to equip the three thousand soldiers coming from Khorat with him. Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), pp. 12-13.

19 Chot?naihet riuang prap khabot wiangchan (1930) (T), pp. 114-15, 121.

20 Chot?naihet riiang prap khabot wiangehan (1930) (T), p. 114.

21 TNL Document Rama HI (64) 1189/11 khai.

22 TNL Document Rama III (9) 1188/20.

23 TNL Document Rama III (25) 1189/4 kai; Document Rama III (29) 1189/10; Document Rama III (79) 1189/11 ngu.

24 Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), p. 143; also, TNL Document Rama III (79) 1189/11 ngu.

 



36. THE TYRANNY OF NUMBERS

 
cannot mobilize more than eight to nine thousand
against Bangkok."25 In his "War Memoirs," the Siamese
general Bodin disdainfully revealed that Anou had
only ten thousand men, not the eighty thousand Anou
had claimed in Khorat.26 The former number seems
likely, since typically countries can levy for war
no more than 10 percent of their populations, and
at this time, according to a Bangkok document found
by D. E. Malloch, the kingdom of Vientiane had 150,000
inhabitants and Champassak 7,500.

The force under Anou's direct command when he entered
Khorat was estimated by officials at seven thousand men,
a number which corresponds to the total number of rice
rations requested by Anou to feed his men.27 Bangkok
spies in the Lao camp provided a lower figure-four
thousand-allocated as follows: one thousand billeted
at Anou's headquarters at Sri Sa Thale, two thousand
located outside this precinct, and one thousand,
strengthened by the governor of Nakhon Phanom's six
hundred soldiers, left in charge of the Khorat fortress.28
The highly mobile troops commanded by Chao Ratsavong
initially included two thousand soldiers, four hundred
elephants, and two hundred horses.29 But Chao Ratsavong
demanded thirty-five hundred rice rations from the
officials of Khorat, probably as provisions for the
other troops, like those from Lomsak, coming to reinforce
him on his way to Saraburi.30 One eyewitness remembered
that Chao Ratsavong emerged on the plain of Saraburi
from the Dong Phraya Fai forest with three thousand men,
their lances ornamented with red feathers.31
Ai Siang Yan, a Lao assisting the Siamese with the
tattooing, wrote many reports of his frequent visits
to Chao Tissa's camp, located four kilometers from
Kalasin. He asserted that Tissa, seconded by Chao Thong,
had at his command three thousand men, one hundred
elephants, and thirty horses; no cannon or firearms
were visible in

25 TNL Document Rama III (49) 1189/4 khoi.

26 Kulap (1971) (T), p. 180. Even Bodin's figure seems inflated unless one accepts that a country can levy no more than 10 percent of its population for war. In the twentieth century, this percentage ceiling still applies. Keegan (1993), p. 355. However, for a traditional state in the early nineteenth century, percentages are generally lower. For example, nineteenth-century Burma, considered a country most geared for centralization, only levied 5 percent. Low (1839), p. 78. If the lower estimate is applied to Vientiane population figures estimated by Malloch, then Bowon's educated guess of eight to nine thousand closely approximates the seventy-five hundred enlisted men in Vientiane's army. Lao oral tradition implicitly confirms this last figure. The abbot of Wat Kang, Phra Khru Chan, and the abbot of Wat Inpeng, Phra Khru Mun, each trained four thousand men in magical arts and sword skills; both abbots followed the army as laymen with the titles Khun Phon Chanthabulisi and Khun Phon Mun Satthan. Khru Mun was renowned for his ability to frighten war elephants into a stand-still. Interview with Maha Bunyok Saensunthon, Vientiane, August 1, 1997. He based his knowledge on palm leaf manuscripts that bore the biographies of these two abbots.

27 TNL Document Rama III (8) 1188/20.

28 TNL Document Rama III (9) 1188/20; also, Dhawaj (1980) (T), p. 43.

29 TNL Document Rama III (78) 1189/11 ngu. The eyewitness testimony is reproduced in Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 60. One chronicle doubled the figures of the text, and reported that Anou had Phagna Sanon gather four thousand men, led by Chao Ratsavong. Traduction de I'histoire de Vien-chan, p. 20.

30 TNL Document Rama III (8) 1188/20.

31 TNL Document Rama III (4) 1188/3. This figure was confirmed by the testimony of a Chinese merchant at Saraburi. In Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 37. Also confirmed by an official from Khorat, in Document Rama III (3) 1188/2.

 


36. THE TYRANNY OF NUMBERS

 

the camp, but swords were bound together like firewood
and thrown in heaps at the center of the camp-32 Another
eyewitness who crossed the lines, this one a Lao deserter,
reported to Bodin that the king of Champassak, Chao Yo,
billeted his two thousand men in eleven camps in the Ubon
region.33

At the very beginning of the hostilities, Lao forces
totaled no more than fourteen thousand men. After the
forced evacuation of the Khorat Plateau, the army could
expand, replenishing itself from the Lao ethnic groups
evacuated to Vientiane, doubling its maximum troop size
to twenty-five thousand men, including the forces from
Siang Khuang, Lomsak, and SarabUri.34 This heavy demand
and the subsequent battle losses eventually resulted in
an immense gender imbalance in the Lao population. Bowon
reported that when Vientiane fen, he counted that only
nine able-bodied men existed for every two or three
hundred women or children.35

Against this unprofessional, badly trained, thinly
dispersed, and poorly equipped Lao army, Thailand fielded
the most impressive armed forces it had ever put on the
battlefield. Siam began to mobilize its forces in mid-1826
and deployed them well before the Lao began military
training for their recruits.36 All foreigners residing
in Bangkok in 1826 reported a major troop build-up by
the Thai state.37

The Lao chronicles, Thao lao kham. Philn chao ratsavong,
provided this description:
All the inhabitants [of Siam] were drafted. Their intention
was to pillage and plunder Vientiane, with the goal of
reducing it to dust, and to annihilate the common people
as well as the royal lineage. Thus everything was prepared
and directed at Vientiane. One heard the noise of this ant
hill marching toward the Muang Lao. In disciplined rank
and file, they crossed the border of the Muang. They were
a multitude.38
The tradition of centralized power in Siam meant the
government could gather, without much difficulty, sixty
to eighty thousand men as well as three thousand elephants
in two days, according to Quaritch Wales.39 "The whole
male population of Siam is supposed to be liable to the
military draft and other forced services, and is considered
to amount to six hundred thousand,' wrote a British
observer.40 Siam

32 TNL Document Rama III (29) 1189/10.

33 TNL Document Rama III (75) 1189/11 ngu.

34 TNL Document Rama III (36) 1189/10 kai.

35 TNL Document Rama III (36) 1189/10 kai.

36 Burney Papers, vol. 2, pt. 4, p. 8.

37 For example, Gutzlaff (1834), p. 76; Pallegoix (1834), pp. 133-34; Brugi@re, (1831), pp. 200-02. Already in 1778, foreign observers talked about a lev6e en masse. See, for instance, Burney Papers, vol. 2, pt. 4, p. 53.

38 Translation in Archaimbault (1980), p. 141. 3

9 Wales also says that the Burmese could not mobilize more than sixty to seventy thousand men, while the Siarnese rarely mobilized more than one hundred thousand men and were usually content with only twenty to sixty thousand men. Wales (1952), pp. 140-41. Low made a similar estimation. Low (1839), p. 313-314. The Chiang Mai Chronicles mention an army of one hundred thousand men led by Thai Vice King Bowon heading toward Khorat and Champassak. This figure includes the men enlisted in the First and Second Armies. The chronicles prudently fail to mention the Third Army which posed a direct threat to Chiang Mai itself. Chiang Mai Chronicles (1995), p. 204.

40 Crawfurd Papers, pp. 127-128.

 


36. THE TYRANNY OF NUMBERS

 

was economically strong as well. John Crawfurd observed,
fascinated, that Siam was .probably at present a country
of more solid strength and resources than at any former
period of its history. "41

After the fall of Ayudhya, Taksin had revived certain
disciplinary measures designed to strengthen Siam's armies.
These measures contributed to Siam's victory in 1827
against the Lao.42 Henry Burney described one such policy:
"The families of the men being detained as hostages in
charge of the Chiefs of the districts to which they
severally belong, must constitute the only bond of union
in a Siamese army detached on service."43 Pallegoix described
another, referring specifically to the war of 1827:

One of their military rules is that if a soldier shrinks
from the enemy, the commander has to behead him. As a result
the Thai, although not naturally very courageous, never
retreat before the enemy, unless their commander leads them.
The general Bodin, who died some years ago, marched behind
his troops, holding a long lance with which he pricked the
backs of his soldiers, shouting: forward, my sons, forward!44

Thai historians have not provided figures for their armies'
strength or weapons.45 Bowon, who was the supreme commander
in the 1827 campaign, also led

41 Crawfurd Papers, pp. 101, 108. Chao Anou was tragically aware of Siam's assets. See Thao lao kham. Phiin chao ratsavong (1973) (L), and Archaimbault (1980), pp. 132-133. The Burney Papers mention the scarce population in Lao areas, as follows: "The wild and mountainous countries of Laos cannot be considered as very favorable to population and they also have suffered severely during the late century, being alternately in the possession of the Burmese and Siamese.... At present, nothing save forests and deserts." Burney Papers, vol. 2, pt. 4, p. 51.

42 TNL Document Rama III (49) 1189/4 khai.

43 Burney Papers, vol. 4, pt. 2, p. 53.

44 Pallegoix (1854), p. 136.

45 Low, however, reports that "Lauchang may be supposed to have contained a population of 50,000 souls, as the Siamese found it requisite to detach an army of 12,500 men against it." Low (1839), p. 248. According to Low's table, this army consisted of: Mons, or Peguers 2,000 Burmans 500 Siamese, under Khun Lo-ung Wan Na 3,000 Siamese, under Kromma Rak 3,000 Siamese, under Krommatibet Bawan 2,000 Krornma Thepreni 1,000 Kromma Thep yotha 1,000 12,500 James Low referred to reliable Siamese sources, but there is some confusion. In this table, "Wan Na" and "Bawan" are listed as two different commanders but are the same person, Vice King Bowon. These figures attracted the following remarks: It is striking for its inconsistency when compared to Lao forces, as well as to the human potential of Siam itself and its actual practice at the time. Fifty years earlier, in 1778, not long after the Burmese invasion, Siam could already muster twenty thousand to thirty thousand men to crush Vientiane, according to some sources. The figure of 12,500 men may have been a ploy to mislead the British in the sense that Bangkok would have liked them to think the Vientiane event was a trifle that did not pose a threat to the Siamese court. This minimization of the issue was already noticeable in Siam's attempts to convince the Vietnamese court that Vientiane posed no challenge. The conscious deflation was also obvious in Chaophraya Thiphakorawong's failure to mention the number of Thai forces while he consistently pinpointed the number of Thai soldiers on the battlefields in Kedah and Vietnam. See Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), pp. 102,127-8,191.

 


36. THE TYRANNY OF NUMBERS

 

the first army. Its advance guard was formed by the
first corps, composed of troops led by Phraya Chasaenyakon,
Phraya Kalahomsena,46 Phraya Phichaiburinthara, and Phraya
Narongwisai. Krommamiln Naretyothi and Kromrhamiin
Seniborirak commanded the second corps. These two corps
embodied the entire operational troops and constituted
the backbone of the first army.

The main body, or the reserves, was under the direct
leadership of Bowon, who was assisted by Krom Rama Itsayet,
Krommamun Thepphonphakdi, Krommamun Thibet Boi, Krommamun
Naranusith,47 and Krommamun Sawatdiwichai. Taksin's son,
Phra Narintharacha, headed the rear-guard.

Chaophraya Mahayotha led the autonomous corps, the crack
force of the entire Siamese army whose unique character
stemmed from its composition.48 Formed exclusively of Mon
who had fled to Siam and become mercenaries after their
abortive uprising against the Burmese, the autonomous
corps of thirty thousand Soldiers first entered Khorat
after Anou abandoned it.49 Chaophraya Mahayotha's son,
Phraya Kiat, commanded the Mon troops when they stormed
the Lao bastion at Nong Bua Lam Phu; he was surrounded
by his staff and stood under a red parasol within reach
of the Lao snipers. He lost his life in this famous battle;
his father died in Vientiane, sick with grief for his son.50

Another notable unit of Siam's first army was made up of
convicts. When news that Lao armies had occupied Khorat
reached Bangkok, the Thai emptied their prisons to form
a combat unit from prisoners, organized under the command
of Khun Nen.51 In short, Bangkok drew troops from all
possible sources. Bodin referred also to Japanese troops,
who perhaps were descendants of settlers who came during
the Ayudhya period. Ethnic Portuguese, also long settled
in Siam, enrolled in the artillery corps in large numbers.52

46 He camped at Pak Ta IChrong. TNL Document Rama HI (13) 1188/20.

47 Krommamiin Naranusit and Kronunarniin Thepphonphakdi came from the garrison at Ban Miiang Songkhon and headed to Muak Lek only on April 10, 1827. TNL Document Rama III (17) 1188/20.

48 "A considerable army.... The most effective part of the Siamese army is at this time comprised of Peguers and that without mercenaries their army would scarcely deserve the name of one." Low's report of August 15, 1826, in Burney Papers, vol. 2, pt. 4, p. 7. The Lao struggled against these mercenaries of Chaophraya Mahayotha in 1827, and recorded "Among them [the soldiers of Bangkok] are thirty thousand experienced men of Kung Si [Bangkok] whose strength is comparable to that of one hundred male elephants and three hundred impetuous horses." See Thao lao kham. Phun chao ratsavong (1973) (L). See also, Archaimbault (1980), P. 141. The numbers given by the Lao chroniclers are not fanciful, for in 1823, Crawfurd estimated the strength at thirty thousand as well. Crawfurd Papers, pp. 70-71. In 1827, a Chinese merchant of Saraburi provided an identical assessment. Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 37.

49 TNL Document Rama III (17) 1188/20.

50 Another son of Chaophraya Mahayotha served in Bowon's page corps. TNL Document Rama III (27) 1189/10.

51 Kulap (1971) (T), p. 273.

52 Kulap (1971) (T), pp. 266-267. Brugi6re wrote, "The Christians are dressed in the European mode; they are all officers in the engineer corps, or officers of the health corps, or cannoneers. Their performance is poor." Brugiere (1831), p. 200.

 


36. THE TYRANNY OF NUMBERS

 

Krommamun Surinthontherak, one of Rama III's favorites,
had responsibility for the second army. Other commanders
in this second army were also favored by the king; one
notes especially the implacable general Bodin and the
powerful Phra Khlang.53 With its headquarters in Prachinburi,
this army advanced to Khorat through Chong Gua Taek pass on
March 29, 1827. It received orders to pacify the Khorat
Plateau and restrain Chao Yo's and Chao Tissa's forces.
Thus, the second army guarded the right flank of Bowon's
first army, whose objective was to attack Anou's troops
and capture Vientiane.

Initially, Siam's military leaders organized the second
army as follows: the first corps, composing the advance guard,
was under Bodin. Its strength amounted to eight thousand men,
not including troops supplied by the governor of Khorat or
other auxiliary forces of the Khorat Plateau.-54 The forces
of Phraya Thattrayotha, Luang Yisansenamat, and Luang
Yokkrabat of Prachinburi, totaling thirteen hundred men,
preceded Bodin's army as scouts.,5,5 The second corps of
the advance guard was commanded by Chaophraya Phra Khlang.

The main body of the second army was placed under the direct
authority of Krommamiin Surinthontherak, with Krommamun
Phubet on his left wing and Krommarniin Phithakthewet on his
right wing. After arriving at Khorat, the units commanded by
Krommamun Surinthontherak and Chaophraya Phra Khlang received
orders to draw back to Bangkok, to the post at Samut Prakan,
in order to defend the Siamese capital from British fleets.

The autonomous corps, which completed the second army with a
strength of ten thousand men, drew half its recruits from
the coastal towns (including Chanthaburi, Rayong, and Trat).
They were commanded by Phraya Ratchanikun, Phraya Ramkhamhaeng,
Phraya Intharabodi Siharatrongrniiang, and Phraya Chanthaburi.
The other half came from the Khmer territories annexed by Siam,
led by members of the local elite, including Phraya Wisetsunthon,
Phraya Sisitthisongkhramrat, and Phraya Siem Reap.56

Bodin referred to the third army, already present in the
environs of Vientiane well before the outbreak of hostilities,
as "the great army of the North.,,57 Led by the Prime Minister
of Siam himself, Chaophraya Aphaiphuthon (also acting Minister
of Interior), this army was composed of two distinct parts.
The first was a force of about fifty-six thousand men. After
garrisoning at Tha Rua (Phra Phutthabat), they proceeded
from the central plain of the Menam Chaophraya, then sailed
up the Sak River to Phetchabun where they joined forces with
the second part of the third army. Together, the two parts of
the third army approached Lomsak, a town that had sided with
Anou.58 A contingent of five thousand men from all the
Siamese towns north of the Menam Chaophraya up to Phitsanulok
and Nakhon Thai composed the second part of the third army.
These men were apportioned into two columns. The first column,
formed by recruits from Nakhon Sawan, Tak, Chiang Thong,
Phichai, and Sawankhalok with commanders such as Phra
Wisetchum and Phra Chaibun (interim governor of Phitsanulok),
was sent to Loei. The second column, composed of troops

53 Bumey Papers, L pt. 1, p. SO.

54 Kulap (1971) (T), p. 239.

55 TNL Document Rama HI (10) 1188/20.

56 Kulap (1971) (T), p. 229.

57 Kulap (1971) (T), p. 998.

58 Kulap (1971) (T), p. 220.

 


36. THE TYRANNY OF NUMBERS

 

led by Phraya Borirakracha, Phraya Narongdecha, Phraya Sukhothai,
Phraya Kamphaengphet, Phraya Phichit, and some elders from Phitsanulok,
joined the other troops before reaching Lomsak and together headed to Loei.59
Phraya Phetphichai, assisted by Phraya Kraikosa, commanded the five thousand
member contingent. As Bangkok's high-commissioner, Phraya Phetphichai was
ordered to rally, by any means necessary, Lan Na and Luang Prabang to the
Siamese side.

Siam's strategic breakthrough, which showed a better understanding of the
complicated politics of the region than Taksin had displayed in 1778-1779,
rested on its accurate assessment of Lan Na and Luang Prabang's
unreliability as allies in battle. The Siamese court maintained a battle plan
that took into account the fickle nature of Anou's potential allies, and
emphasized the importance of the third army for Bangkok's ultimate success.
Anou himself focused on the potential threats posed by the first and
second armies, which were marching to Khorat; no doubt he understood
that a fatal political crisis would result if these forces pressured local elites
on the Khorat Plateau to support their endeavors. Lacking sufficient troops
to meet Siam on all three fronts, Anou could not meet the military threat
posed by the third army, though he must have recognized that this force
was in a position to suffocate the Lao insurrection even before it could be
bom by launching a surprise attack on Vientiane from the rear.

Anou had posted Phya Sai at Lomsak primarily as a screen, but Chao
Ratsavong had to make a detour there on his way to Saraburi, to assess
the dangers and give orders to build a fortress and appoint officials.60
After a quick trip to Saraburi, Chao Ratsavong rushed back to help
defend Lomsak against the sixty-one thousand advancing troops
commanded by Chaophraya Aphaiphuthon. The Lao were outnumbered
and out-gunned. Siam's forces not only had European and American
weapons, but they also had enough to arm each soldier with a flintlock
musket.61 And if the muskets did not suffice, the Thai could appropriate
more cannons and powder, for they had larger weapons stored at Ban
Muang Song Khon, near Saraburi.62

37. THE LAO ARMIES AGAINST ALL ODDS


After the Lao summit in Vientiane, the rulers of Sakon Nakhon and the ratsavong of Kalasin (the third-ranking official of the town) led Chao Tissa's army to Kalasin, which they captured easily.63 Chao Yo took advantage of this post-victory

 


59 TNL Document Rama III (47) 1189/16.

60 Traduction de I'histoire de Vien-chan, p. 20; TNL Document Rama III (66) 1189/11 khwai, testimony of Ai Sua, May 20,1827.

61 Burney Papers, vol. 1, pt. 1, p. 48. Low verified the Siamese supremacy in firepower: 'The Siamese, inferior as they are to the Chinese in the arts of civilized life have yet the advantage of them in the use of fire-arms.... The armory at Bangkok is by all accounts well filled, . . . and it should seem that they are better armed than ever the Burmans are. " Low (1839), pp. 312,315. Compare the ratio of flintlocks to Thai soldiers, to the ratio in the Burmese army, credited to have been one of the most effective in the region. In Burma, 'one good musket, by their definition of that term, and two old ones, were allotted to every ten men." Low (1839), p. 78.

62 TNL Document Rama M (27) 1189/10, vol. 2, khun.

63 Theerachai (1984) (T), p. 67.

 


37. THE LAO ARMIES AGAINST ALL ODDS

 

enthusiasm to conscript soldiers at Ubon64 and to occupy Sisaket,
strategically located for attacks on Khorat. The Lao occupation of
nearby Sisaket kept the governor of Khorat from returning to his town,
so that he remained holed up at Rhukhan; the remaining officials of
Khorat emerged to meet Anou as he advanced to their city. Tissa
and Yo had their troops stationed in these towns, which had been
conquered by the Lao in the first bold moves of the campaign, and
would control them until the Siamese armies sprang up over the
Khorat Plateau.

Despite his swift advance, Vice King Chao Tissa was unable
to seize the governor of Kalasin. He did, however, capture all
the Siamese agents assigned to carry out the tattooing. These
agents thought that Tissa's arrival was merely part of a local
quarrel with the Kalasin official and had nothing to do with them,
as Siamese. The chief of the Siamese officials, Suryaphakdi,
helped Tissa locate the governor of Kalasin's hideouts. Brought
back to his town, the governor, Phraya Chaisunthon, was forced
to visit Tissa's camp many times-accompanied by his parasol
bearers, his spittoon bearers, betel nut chewers, and everyone
else necessary to maintain his rank and dignity-for the Lao vice
king was determined to convince him to side with Vientiane.
But the governor refused to give allegiance to Anou, so he and
his assistants were beheaded in January, 1827.65 The local
population interpreted the executions as part of a revolt
orchestrated by Tissa.66 The beheadings, plus the appearance
of the governor of Nakhon Phanom's troops, disguised in
Vietnamese uniforms and helmets with rooster's tufts,
convinced the towns on the Khorat Plateau to side with Anou
and encouraged village elders to evacuate the population to
Vientiane.67 Others, such as the governor of Khon Kaen,
voluntarily joined Anou.68

The Siamese officials in charge of the tattooing were accompanied
by Kalasin guards to Vientiane,69 while their chief Suryaphakdi
somehow escaped by talking his way free, according to Thai
historiography.7( The Phun viang chronicles explain his good
fortune by noting the fact that Suryaphakdi had a Lao mother,71
and the fact that the Lao leaders, Tissa and Anou, probably hoped
to get something in return for their lenient treatment of this man,
who was a high-ranking Siamese official.

All the towns (Sakon Nakhon, Nong Han, and so forth) through
which the captured Siamese officials passed on their way from
Kalasin to Vientiane had already been emptied of their populations
and the houses burnt by Chao Tissa's advancing Lao army.72
Chao Tissa then left Kalasin for Roi-Et, Yasothon, and Suwannaphum.
Informed of his arrival in a nearby town, the governor of Khukhan
sent him a letter

64 Kennedy (1970), p. 341.

65 Tcem (1970) (T), p. 251; Theerachai (1984) (T), pp. 70-71; TNL Document Rama III (29) 1189/10; Document Rama HI (27) 1189/10. The first bloodshed in the 1827 conflict was the enactment of a personal vendetta: an apolitical murder with a calan-dtous aftermath.

66 TNL Document Rama III (78) 1189 / 11 ngu.

67 Dhawaj (1980) (T), pp. 42-43. It is likely that the military disguises originated from a proposal by Siam's nemesis, Le Van Duyet, the Vietnamese overlord ruling in Saigon. The tributary missions sent by Nakhon Phanom had to commute to Saigon to reach Hu6. Ta Quang Phat and Buu Lam (1965-66) (V), vol. 2, p. 193.

68 TNL Document Rama M (28) 1189/ 10; Thap (1930) (T), p. .

69 TNL Document Rama M (84) 1189/11 ching.

70 Thongwitthaya (1983) (T).

71 Dhawaj (1980) (T), p. 42.

72 TNL Document Rama IH (84) 1189/11 ching.

 


37. THE LAO ARMIES AGAINST ALL ODDS

 

pledging his allegiance and immediately imprisoned those Siamese
officials who had organized the tattooing.73 As in Kalasin, Tissa
did not erect a fortress to protect his army, but set up camp outside
the town. He then organized the transfer to Vientiane of the
population from Ubon, Suwannaphum, Kalasin, Yasothon, Roi-Et,
Khon Kaen, and Khorat.74 Tissa's action helped secure control
over many areas around the Khorat Plateau, and protected the left
flank of Anou's army, which marched toward Khorat to repatriate
the population from Saraburi.

Chao Yo seemed to encounter more problems than Chao Tissa
and reached Ubon only at the end of January 1827. Like Tissa,
he destroyed the villages his army passed through, earning him
the ill-will of the local population; those people would demonstrate
their resentment at a critical moment later in the conflict. Yo
accomplished few of the tasks he set out to finish. For example, his
representative, Krainarong, attempted to convince officials of Khong,
Attopeu, Siang Teng, and Saenpang to conscript men. The governor
of Saenpang agreed, but was reluctant to leave his town; the governor
of Siang Teng brought three hundred men to join Chao Yo at Ubon,
but he did not arrive with this small force until March 11, 1827, when
pressure from the Siamese army had already grown strong in the area. 75

The governor of Khukhan, Phraya Krai Songkhram, rallied to Tissa
with three thousand men collected from his own town, Sangkha, and
Surin.76 His support increased Bangkok's suspicion that its "Eastern
Lao and Khmer towns'77 might be imperfectly loyal, a suspicion that
prompted Siam to maintain part of the second army on the border
between Cambodia and Khorat to observe the situation, secure those
towns, and protect those who remained faithful to Bangkok. Meanwhile,
the Lao forces were actively driving out all Bangkok faithfuls. The Lao
commander, Phraya Krai Songkhram, hotly pursued them, a chase that
concluded with victory in the battle at Nong Pru, where the governors
of Phirnai and Khorat were pressed to cede victory to the Lao and Khmer
soldiers of Phraya Krai Songkhram. Urged by successive letters from
Chao Tissa and Chao Ratsavong to find and capture, at any cost, the
governor of Khorat, Phraya Krai Songkhram waged a final battle at the
pass of Chong Samet, but the governor of Khorat managed to escape to
Nang Rong.78 Anou and his followers recognized the importance of
netting this leader. In fact, they practically seem to have identified the
governor of Khorat as the source of all their problems; letters from
Anou and his subordinates seized by the Thai armies dwell exclusively
on the need to capture the governor of Khorat. Strangely, however,
Anou never devoted the resources necessary to accomplish the task,
instead entrusting Phraya Krai Songkhram, who was hampered by an
insufficient supply of weapons, to carry out this difficult mission.
The failure to capture the elusive governor of Khorat had deadly
consequences.

73 TNL Document Rama M (83) 1189 / 11 ching.

74 After the fall of Vientiane, these people generally remained near Nong Han, where Phraya Chasmnyakon ordered an official of Khon K&-n to capture them. TNL Document Rama III (87) 1189/11 ching.

75 TNL Document Rama HI (58) 1189/11 khoi.

76 TNL Document Rama IH (83) 1189/11 ching.

77 Ruam raang ?niiang nakhon ratchasima (1968) (T), p. 39.

78 TNL Document Rama Ill (2) 1188/1; Document Rama IR (14) 1188/20; Document Rama EE[ (9) 1188/20.

 


37. THE LAO ARMIES AGAINST ALL ODDS

 

Chao Ratsavong left Vientiane on January 16,1827. Anou and Sutthisan
followed him, traveling for three days to Chonnabot, where they organized
the construction of a fortress at Ban Th&-n. This bastion was created to
hold back the invading Siamese arn-ties. Near this fort, the Lao also meant
to recruit and train new soldiers at Phu Wiang, the resettlement center for
the population evacuated from the Khorat Plateau. 79

Chao Ratsavong arrived at Khorat on February 16, 1827; the trip, with a
detour to Lomsak, took one month, or double the time of a regular trip
from Vientiane to Khorat. Chao Ratsavong stayed one night at Khorat,
and then headed to Saraburi with his task force. Chao Ratsavong and his
scouts, with their troops not far behind, took only three days to reach
Saraburi rather than the normal eleven days. A Chinese merchant, settled
for twenty years in Sao Hai, at the center of Saraburi's four districts, gave
the following account of Chao Ratsavong's movements:

The first month of this year, the king of the Ten Thousand Elephants
country [Anou] brought his army to quarter at Con Lai [Khorat] and
sent Na-Chiu Vong [Chao Ratsavong] with three thousand men to
Thao-Hai [Sao Hail. These men were all armed, three hundred of them,
with lances decorated with red feathers. The 25th of this month [February
20, 19271, very early in the morning, Na-Chiu Vong presented himself at
Thao-Hai, of which the chief is Amili, who immediately gathered the
inhabitants-thirty thousand Lao, fifty Siamese, and three hundred Chinese.
Everybody departed with Na-Chiu Vong before nightfall. The Siamese
took the opportunity to flee, since they wanted to stay at Thao-Hai.
After one day's walk, Na-Chiu Vong arrived at Kin Khoi [Kaeng Khoi]
which is a dependency of Saraburi; he camped [at Kaeng Khoil for three
days. Then, he took to the road again. After a rapid walk of eleven days,
he arrived at Muang Con Lai. The news went out that the chief of the
Siamese armies, Trao Phida Chat Tri, whose name is Trao-Thich, had
come from Bangkok to camp with his armies at Mang- Trung, and had
sent Lam-pho-Di with an army to occupy Thao-Hai. At that time, Na-Chiu
Vong had already met with Chiu Ano [Anou] five days before. Chiu Ano
had gathered the five thousand inhabitants of Con Lai, who joined those
from Thao-Hai to come to the capital of the Ten Thousand Elephants
country. After destroying his provisional residence [his headquarters at
Khorati, Chiu Ano and Na-Chiu Vong both left [Khorat] the same day to
come back to the capital of the Ten Thousand Elephants country where
they arrived after fourteen days. They thus got ahead of the soldiers who
had to accompany the populations of the two towns of Thao-Hai and of
Con Lai. Three days after their return [Anou and Chao Ratsavong to
Vientiane], news reached them that the Siamese armies had attacked
soldiers at Nong Bo [Nong Bua Lam Phu] located twelve days from Con
Lai and three days from Vientiane with thirty thousand men.80

79 TNL Document Rama M (26) 1189/11 kai; Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 23. Both "orat officials and the court of Bangkok reported that Anou entered Khorat on Sunday, February 18, 1827. See TNL Document Rama III (8) 1188/20; Ruam riiang miiang nakhon ratchasima (1968) (T), pp. 29, 31, 41. Thiphakorawong and Sila date the arrival on Feb. 14,1827. See Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), p. 14; Sila (1969), p. 32.

80 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 37. The name of this Chinese merchant was recorded by officials at the court of Hu6 as Hoang Khac Tieu. He had beenevacuated, with other inhabitants from Saraburi, by Chao Ratsavong to Vientiane. After the fall of the Lao capital he fled with his family to Nakhon Phanom and then to the Vietnamese frontier.

 


37. THE LAO ARMIES AGAINST ALL ODDS

 

Chao Ratsavong's swift repatriation of thirty thousand people-three times
the population of the Lao capital-frorn Saraburi had been observed by the
Siamese armies camping at Ayudhya, less than one day's walk from Saraburi.
Moreover, Luang Pheng of Saraburi and his deputy succeeded in informing
the Siamese armies at Ban Muang of what was happening; these informers
then returned on the very day that Chao Ratsavong was evacuating the
populations Apart from these obvious exceptions, most residents of Saraburi
followed Ratsavong with joy and excitement. All phuak lao-niyom (the
"pro-Lao"), as Chaophraya Thiphakorawong characterized them, followed
Chao Ratsavong; this contingent included ten Thai families, twenty Chinese
families, and ten thousand Lao.82 These figures, estimated thirty years after
the events, are probably low. The Siamese who "wanted to stay at Thao-Hai"
included only the two hundred people who were family members of the
Siamese loyalist, Luang Pheng, and his deputy; Chao Ratsavong had to
send his own deputy, Phagna Siang Tai, with two hundred men to fetch
them.83

Chao Ratsavong had to remain at Kaeng Khoi for three days to protect the
evacuees from Saraburi as they prepared to traverse the Dong Phraya Fai's
dangerous forest. There, at Kaeng Khoi, three important paths converged:
the path from the Menam Chaophraya plain, from the Sak (now Pasak) river
valleys to the north, and from Prachinburi to the south. To reinforce
Ratsavong's tautly stretched lines of communication, which were threatened
by the potential appearance of Siamese armies on all three paths, Anou asked
the governor of Lomsak to station his men for one week at Si Khieo, in the
middle of the Dong Phraya Fai forest.84 When the population of Saraburi
emerged from this inhospitable mountain range, they saw the area ahead had
already been emptied of its inhabitants. Two-thirds of the houses and the
granaries had been burnt by Anou's army.85

Welcomed in Khorat by the ruler of Pak Thong Chai86 and by all of Khorat's
high-ranking officials, except the governor, Anou ordered the evacuation of
Khorat within four days.87 This task was dutifully carried out, but not in the
way Anou expected.88 Though Khorat had a population one-sixth the size
of Saraburi, its evacuation took three days longer. The Thai chronicler,
Chaophraya T'hiphakorawong, explained why Anou wasted precious time:

 

81 Chotmaihet r"ng prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), pp. 56-57.

82 Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), pp. 42-43, 48, 51. According to a Lao officer who participated in Chao Ratsavong's campaign in Saraburi, the number of people removed totaled twenty-six thousand. See Chotmaihet ratchakan thi sam (1987) (T), v. 3, p. 28.

83 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 56. The firearms merchant Robert Hunter may have led the British mercenaries in their encounter with Phagna Siang Tai. Hunter retold the episode to Neale (1852), pp. 48-52,

84 TNL Document Rama M (79) 1189/11 ngu. Lao from Lan Na inhabited the town of Si Khieo, and were probably deported there during the reign of Taksin. See Dhawaj (1980) (T), p. 94. This would be one reason Chao Ratsavong set up camp there.

85 TNL Document Rama 11 (23) 1189/4 kai; Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. II.

86 Ruam riiang milang nakhon ratchasi?m (1968) (T), p. 60.

87 Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), p. 44. 88 TNL Document Rama HI (8) 1188/20.

 


37. THE LAO ARMIES AGAINST ALL ODDS

 

Phraya Yokkrabat ["the ears and the eyes" of the court of Bangkok and the
most senior official after the governor of Khorati feared the authority of Anou
and, not knowing what else to do but agree to the evacuation of the
population, provided [Anou with] the daughter of Luang Na as well as
many other young, beautiful women. Then Anou ordered the Lao to
confiscate all the arms possessed by the Khorat families, who were not
allowed to keep even their kitchen cleavers.89

The diversity of Khorat's population helps clarify the events which follow.
A Thai document obtained by D. E. Malloch provides a breakdown of Khorat's
population by ethnic category: fifteen hundred Siamese, nine hundred Chinese,
fifteen hundred Lao, and nine hundred Khmer, totaling forty-eight hundred.90

According to one eyewitness, the families evacuated from Khorat joyously
took the road to Vientiane, except for those whose sons and fathers were
enrolled in the governor of Khorat's army and those who wept bitterly at
having to abandon their homes.91 Anou's officials quickly sorted the
evacuees.92 The 'Lao of Khorat," who were Lao kinsmen, were sent directly
to the Nong Bua Lam Phu fortress. The rest were sent to Vientiane. The choice
of route-a road through Thong Samrit and Phimai-was foolish, since Phimai's
governor was at that time fighting against the Lao; those evacuees from
Suwannaphum who were reluctant to go to Vientiane quickly took advantage
of their situation and hid themselves in the Thong Samrit- Phimai areas. Yet
when Anou reached Vientiane, most of the Khorat evacuees sent along that
route were already gathered at the Lao capital. Bowon would later complain in
a report to Rama III that his mission in Vientiane had been complicated by the
presence of the people from Khorat, Lomsak, the Khmer areas and other
localities who crowded Vientiane.

On the day of his arrival in Khorat, Anou had the Khorat fortress, with its
massive wall, demolished.93 In this way, Anou "took position at Khorat"
according to the Thai chronicle of Wat Yot Kwo Si Wichai of Mukdahan.94
He remained there from February 18 to March 23, 1827: thirty-four crucial days
for the Lao.

38. KHORAT, THE SITE OF THE LAO DIPLOMATIC OFFENSIVE


Anou's occupation of Khorat was a shocking victory designed to catalyze the Lao and to mobilize them against Bangkok. Khorat's political significance for the Lao lay in its symbolic value: its collapse signified the crumbling of the dialectical relationship between the dominant and the dominated. The Thai establishment clearly perceived the symbolic importance of the event and designated the day of his

 


89 Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), p. 44.

90 Burney Papers, vol. 3, pt. 2, p. 355.

91 Prachum chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1930) (T), p. 112.

92 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), pp. 12, 23-24.

93 Aymonier (1901), P. 103. The wall around the I

 


38. KHORAT, THE SITE OF THE LAO DIPLOMATIC OFFENSIVE

 

entry into Khorat as the beginning of the "Anou revolt."95 Anou's ability to
persuade, by guile or appeal, other Bangkok dependencies scarred the memory
of Thai leaders, and after Siam took Vientiane, the bitter memory of the betrayals
prompted Siamese commander-in-chief, Bowon, to erect a stone inscription at
Phan Phao, which called for "the denunciation of all the infamies of Anou and
the exhortation for all towns [vassals, dependencies, or provinces of Siam] to
never again follow his example."96 Upon recapturing Vientiane from Siam in 1828,
Anou's first move was to destroy Bowon's inscription, though in so doing he
dared to break the Buddhist rule promising perpetual hell to anyone who dares
to "kill stupa and pagoda."

Leaders in Bangkok recognized the potential impact on the region that a
rebellion by one vassal could have. On the same day Anou reached- Khorat,
the court of Bangkok dispatched this order to its high-ranking official in the
Gulf of Siam: "AU the Malay towns under Songkhla administration may cause
trouble. Therefore send clever officials out to talk to the Governors and Tuans
and Elders, to prevent this. "97 Anou, now master of Khorat, quickly spun a
diplomatic cobweb that he hoped would encompass and help secure the region.
While the Siamese armies were camped only eight days' walk from Khorat, Anou
sent an embassy, composed of Lao from Vientiane and Saraburi to Chiang Mai,
Lampang, Nan, and Phrx, hoping to forge alliances.98 The Bangkok intelligence
network reported on his efforts:

Anou is exhorting the governors of Nan and Phrae- to attack with armies, moving
them toward Phichai. And he requests that Lampang, Chiang Mai, and Lamphun
attack and move toward Tak, meeting the Nan-Phrae- armies at Chainat. Anou
planned to have Chao Ratsavong attack via Saraburi. Anou indicated that Nan-
Phrae need not join this action if they did not wish, but that Vientiane and Vietnam
would succeed easily.99

It is difficult to assess the actual sympathies of Chao Anou's initial allies
because obviously those allies, trapped between combatants, had reason
to camouflage their actions and intentions. Their ambiguous movements
still leave room for interpretation. One notes in particular the movements
of the princes from the north, those who ruled the various principalities of
Lan Na. Very soon after they attended Rama III's royal coronation ceremony
Bangkok in 1826, these princes traveled to Muang Tak [Rahaeng], the exact
place where, according to a Siamese intelligence report, Anou had asked them
to go. Whether they arrived in this place by coincidence or design, one cannot
say for certain. After the fall of Vientiane, these princes saw to it that their
chroniclers recorded a revised description of their;
for the edification of future generations and the satisfaction of Bangkok:

95 For example, see the reaction of Princess Narinthonthewi (1963) (T), p. 3; also, muang nakhon ratchasima (1968) (T), p. 41.

96 TNL Document Rama III (49) 1189/4 khai; Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), p. 69.

97 TNL Document Rama III (4) 1188/3.

98 See TNL Document Rama III (9) 1188/20.

99 TNL Document Rama III (18) 1189/4. Was this a grand strategy in the making? OR mere infatuation with power as a result of recent victory? It may have simply been taunt thrown out by Anou to provoke his reluctant allies into action.

 


38. KHORAT, THE SITE OF THE LAO DIPLOMATIC OFFENSIVE

 

The sovereigns of Lamphun, Chiang Mai, and Nakhon Lampang bid farewell
[to the king and officials in Bangkok] and returned back [to their respective
countries]. Arriving in Muang Tak, they were informed of an attack on Muang
Nakhon Ratchasirna [Khorat] by Chao Anou of Vientiane, who was in revolt.
Each of them sent the princes from their families with troops to be put at the
disposal of the royal service [of the king of Siam] against the army of Vientiane. 100
In reality, these rulers had not been so prompt in rushing to the aid of Siam.
According to a report from Bowon to Rama III, the princes needed to be
convinced that Siam could win the contest before they contributed troops
to the effort: "If the royal armies could not conquer Vientiane, none of the
five Phung Dam [Lan Na] or Luang Prabang contingents would appear at the
royal camp." Bowon's report continues:
These principalities would simply confine themselves to waiting at their
respective borders in order to seize peasants, elephants, and other things  ....
We must, however, act purposefully in concert with these towns and say to
them that they take too much time to send their troops and that the royal armies
have already taken Vientiane. They must be punished.101

The wrath of the Siamese commander-in-chief would have intensified had
he known the whole story. A report from the Siamese armies, dated
approximately April 17,1827, relates that the forces of Muang Tak had
already joined Siam's "great army of the North" two months earlier. If the
rulers of Lan Na had been at Muang Tak, then they must have been well
aware of the Lao rebellion and Thai mobilization. Hence, we can interpret
many of their communications as attempts to bluff Bangkok and postpone
the moment when they would have to send forces to assist Siam.102 The
prince of Nan sent a personal emissary, Saen Luang Thipsomsak, to open
up communications with the governor of Lomsak, Phagna Suryawongsa,
who recommended that Nan remain faithful to Anou; certainly his Lan Na
peers must have known of this prince's action. Anou subsequently struck
a deal with Nan, according to Phraya Phetphichai, the Bangkok agent:
"Anou wrote to Nan that Nan could take those families that wished to
migrate to Nan from Muang Nam Pat, Muang Ham, Muang Kaen Thao,
and all other towns on the western bank of the Mekong, while all towns
on the eastern bank belonged to Vientiane. Nan officials then carried off
the Nam Pat families." 103

The link between the prince of Nan and Anou (who referred to himself as
"son" and to the prince of Nan as 'father" in their correspondence) was
special, and this opportunity to redefine the border separating their
populations reinforced their connection. The prince of Nan made his
officials drink the water of allegiance, a

100 Notton (1932), p. 254.

l0l TNL Document Rama HI (49) 1189/4 khai; Thiphakorawong provides an edited version. Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), p. 62.

102 TNL Document Rama HI (19) 1189/4.

103 TNL Document Rama III (49) 1189/4 khai. For the reaction of the court of Bangkok to this transfer of population which benefited Nan, see TNL Document Rama III (39) 1189/12 and Document Rama HI (60) 1189/11 khoi.

 


38. KHORAT, THE SITE OF THE LAO DIPLOMATIC OFFENSIVE

 

binding oath, to Chao Anou twice: once in front of Chao Ratsavong at
Muang Nam Pat, and again at Ban Chieo.104 When the balance of forces
pressured the Lan Na elite to side with Bangkok, the prince of Nan sent
an envoy to Chao Ratsavong to conclude a pact promising that neither
Lan Na nor Vientiane would fight each other. 105 ANOU succeeded,
through his relations with Lan Na, in postponing the fatal moment when
Lan Na's army of twenty thousand men, equipped with impressive
firepower, joined Bangkok's.106 It should be noted, however, that even
after Chao Anou's defeat, the Lan Na elite persistently referred to Anou
with the royal title, "Phra Chao," in its communications with the Bangkok
armies, and did not use the derogatory "Ai Anou" that the Thai
establishment had declared compulsory.107

Anou's overture toward Luang Prabang was more direct than his
overture toward Lan Na and resembled similar efforts initiated by the
Lao in 1820-1821. In early February of 1827, Manthathurat of Luang
Prabang received an embassy sent by Anou. Its goals were: first, to
convince Luang Prabang that Anou had good reasons for occupying
the Khorat Plateau; second, to ask Luang Prabang to recover the Luang
Prabang Lao forced to settle in Siam in the 1770s, a population that had
been repatriated by Anou to Vientiane; and third, to request the king to
give rice to Anou to support his plans.108 Despite his efforts to placate
Manthathurat, Anou excited his anxieties. Manthathurat immediately
sent spies to the edges of the Siamese empire and from them learned
that two thousand men from Vientiane were camping at Ban Sieo Hoi Fai,
Nan, and Paklai. His subsequent actions display Manthathurat's acute
survival instincts; the ruler of Luang Prabang made it known that "he
[would] side with the victor," according to the chronicle of Luang Prabang.
However, his efforts to follow a policy shaped by realpolitik were
complicated by a genuine sympathy for Anou.

After staying twenty-four days in Luang Frabang, the Vientiane embassy
took leave of Manthathurat; their departure took place approximately one
week after Anou entered Khorat. A Luang Prabang embassy, led by Phya
Muang Phaen and Phya Si Sung Hak, left soon after to take up residence
in Vientiane. Later, Manthathurat justified placing Luang Prabang diplomatic
representatives in a capital ,revolting against Bangkok" by claiming that he
needed to collect information. Rama III was not convinced and suspected
there was more at stake than intelligence gathering, for indeed, so far as he
knew, this was the first embassy that Luang Prabang had sent to Vientiane
since the bloody Lao schism in 1707. He was right; the

104 Chot"wihet ratchakan thi sam (1987) (T), vol. 3, p. 107.

105 Chotmaihet ratchakan thi sam (1987) (T), vol. 3, p. 107.

106 The armies of Vientiane and Champassak appeared weak compared to the strength of Lanna's armies, which Bowon reported as maintaining twenty thousand soldiers. The first contingent of troops sent by Nan included five hundred soldiers, three thousand new recruits, three hundred elephants, and eighteen hundred flintiocks with 420 kg. of powder. After the fall of Vientiane, Nan provided to the Siamese armies five thousand men, Chiang Mai five thousand, Lampang five thousand, Lamphun two thousand, Phroe one thousand, and Luang Prabang 2,711. See TNL Document Rama III (49) 1189/4 khai; Document Rama In (86) 1189/11 ching; Document Rama M (46) 1189/16; Document Rama III (44) 1189/16; Document Rama III (80) 1189/11 ching; Document Rama III (81) 1189/11 ching. See also Brailey (1968), p. 54.

107 TNL Document Rama III (19) 1189/4; Document Rama III (46) 1189/16; Document Rama III (80) 1189/11 ching.

108 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangehan (1926) (T), p. 64; Khamman (1973) (L), pp. 65, 95; Phongsawadan milang luang prabang (1963) (T), p. 350.

 


38. KHORAT, THE SITE OF THE LAO DIPLOMATIC OFFENSIVE

 

real purpose of Manthathurat's embassy was to fetch home his Luang
Prabang compatriots who had been evacuated to Vientiane. Anou took
the opportunity to return to Luang Prabang Manthathurat's third son,
Chao Pho Nua Thong, who had been brought to Vientiane with the
multitudes swept up by Chao Ratsavong's raid on Saraburi.1(9
Chao Pho Niia Thong was accompanied by Anou's new embassy,
which requested rice and soldiers from Manthathurat for the battles
occurring at Siang Khan, a rallying point for Chao Ratsavong in his
Lomsak-Loei campaign.110 Manthathurat agreed to provide the supplies.
Later, he had to construct a convincing alibi to explain his generosity
towards the rebels, an alibi which the investigating Siamese high
commissioner dutifully reported to Bangkok:

Anou had written to him [Manthathurat] ordering him to fill a granary at
Chiang Khan for distribution to families, and if Luang Prabang refused,
Anou would raise the Phuan army to attack Luang Prabang. Luang
Prabang's prince, seeing he had few men, agreed, but Luang Prabang
always put off the insistent agents that Anou sent up, saying the river
was too low, and that in the fifth lunar month [April-May], he would
send the rice down. The Luang Prabang prince will remain at Luang
Prabang and requests Phraya Phichai [Siamese commissioner] send
an army up.111

As a matter of fact, this message was deceptive, for before it was even
written, Luang Prabang had already sent rice and soldiers to Paklai,
according to a dispatch from Nan dated no later than March 31, 1827.
Thai military leaders must have been puzzled by the presence of Luang
Prabang armies in Anou's zone of influence, but nevertheless sent their
own request for rice and soldiers by a letter dated April 22, 1827.112

Chao Anou also sent an embassy, led by Nai Sai, to Muang Phuan [Siang
Khuang], asking for reinforcements.113 The chronicles do not reveal when
this embassy arrived. The direct testimony of Chao Noi, prince of Siang
Khuang, was delivered to officials in Hue at the end of 1827. The prince
of Siang Khuang said that he himself had responded to Anou's appeal by
mobilizing 'ten thousand men from Du'ong Ha, Bang Coc, Chiu Kham
[Siang Kham]," and came himself to guard the Vientiane capital when Anou
went to Khorat, probably because Anou worried that his own uncle Bal Rat-
aged eighty years-nominally in charge of the defense of Vientiane,114 could
not cope with the situation given the looming threat of the third Siamese army,
which waited upstream on the Mekong.

109 Chao Pho NiAa Thong had been serving Rama HI as a page, and then fulfilling his monastic duties at Phra Phutthabat, near Saraburi. Phongsawadan miiang luang prabang (1963) (T), p. 251.

110 TNL Document Rama III (19) 1189/4.

111 TNL Document Rama El[ (19) 1189/4.

112 TNL Document Rama EE[ (46) 1189/16; Document Rama III (35) 1189/10 kai.

113 Kharnman (1973) (L), p. 66.

114 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 28. The figure of ten thousand soldiers provided by Siang Khuang seems to be a typographical error. A more likely figure is one thousand. One document provides a revisionist view. It asserts that Siang Khuang reinforcements were not sent to Vientiane because Chao Noi feared an attack from Luang Prabang. This attack began only when the Siamese armies occupied Luang Prabang and Chao Anou fled from Vientiane to Vietnam, and not earlier. Phongsawadan muang phuan (1969) (L), p. 16. For confirmation of Chao Noi's stance, see Archaimbault (1967), pp. 580-581, 620-621, 627-628, 654. For information on the movements of the prince of Siang Khuang, see also Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 16, and see TNL Document Rama III (84) 1189/11 ching; Document Rama III (87) 1189/11 ching. Also, see Traduction de I'histoire de Vien-chan, p. 16.

 


38. KHORAT, THE SITE OF THE LAO DIPLOMATIC OFFENSIVE

 

In this feverish atmosphere of diplomatic scheming all over the Southeast
Asian mainland, and under the close watch of the Siamese armies on the
slope of the Khorat Plateau, Anou, camping near Khorat, found time to send
an embassy to Phnom Penh. Bangkok's agents reported that this mission,
composed of thirty Lao and inhabitants of Kampong Sway, sailed to Siem
Reap in three boats with their chief sitting under a red parasol.115 This
embassy hoped to win the same kind of assistance Anou had received in
Lan Na and Luang Prabang, and Anou probably had high expectations for
this mission, since the Khmer king was similarly despised by the Bangkok
court. "Rama III associated Ong Chan with Chao Anou, the rebel of Vientiane,
considering them both traitors to Siam."116

The Lao may have attempted to contact the extremely reluctant Vietnamese
court of Hue indirectly through Nguyen Van Thoai, an acquaintance of the
late Lao king, Inthavong. Nguyen Van Thoai was at this time at Ha Tien.117
At the end of March 1827, Ong Chan informed Nguyen Van Thoai that Anou
"attacked" Khorat and that Siamese armies had amassed in preparation for
an assault on Vientiane through Khorat and Battambang.118 In the same
month, Le Van Duyet, governor of Saigon, asked Nguyen Van Thoai and
high-ranking Khmer officials including Fa Thalaha, Somdet Chaophraya,
Chaophraya Kalahom, Phraya Yommarat, and Phraya Chakri, to provide him
with information about Anou's actions. Le Van Duyet urged them to be
vigilant and to maintain security at the border. 119 On May 13, 1827, one
month after the Lao retreat from Khorat, Nguyen Van Thoai brought three
thousand men to defend Phutthaiphet, the town where the Khmer king,
Ong Chan, lived, and another one thousand to Ha Tien.12( For their part,
the Siamese sent one army under Phraya Naren to camp at Pursat, another
led by Phraya Narin to Kampong Sway, and a third one, under Phraya
Worachun, to Stung Krong. 121 Intensified by such actions, tension
mounted on the Thai-Cambodian border, even though the Lao had already
abandoned Khorat.
There are several explanations for Chao Anou's decision to resist Siam,
but only one explanation for the conflict was repeated in Cambodia and
Vietnam, particularly in Le Van Duyet's old fiefdom. Probably the Lao
embassy, passing through Siem

 

115 TNL Document Rama III (11) 1188/20. Kampong Sway was in a friendly area. In 1828, the Vietnamese came there to construct boats. See TNL Document Rama III (40) 1189/12 and Document Rama IH (75) 1189/ 11 ngu.

116 Chandler (1973), p. 121.

117 TNL Document Rama III (69) 1189/ 11 chan.

118 TNL Document Rama III (69) 1189/11 chan.

119 TNL Document Rama III (71) 1189/11 chan; Document Rama HI (72) 1189/11 chan. 120 TNL Document Rama III (69) 1189/11 chan. Deliberately violating Le Van Duyet's order to postpone the cremation of his deceased wife and go straight to Phutthaiphet to assist Nguyen Van Thoai, the governor of Sadec took the time to complete the familial rites. TNL Document Rama III (72) 1189/11 chan. TNL Document Rama III (72) 1189/11 chan. When he finally arrived at Phutthaiphet, he was surprised to see Phraya Sena, a Khmer dignitary, loading lacquer and goods in three small boats to offer to the Siamese king. TNL Document Rama III (72) 1189/ 11 chan.

121 TNL Document Rama III (71) 1189/ 11 chan.

 


38. KHORAT, THE SITE OF THE LAO DIPLOMATIC OFFENSIVE

 

Reap, created this version of the conflict's origins that Vietnamese chroniclers
adopted. In their records, the Lao embassy to Vietnam downplayed the fear of
potential British, Burmese, or Vietnamese attacks on Bangkok, failed to mention
Anou's pretenses to aid Bangkok, and appealed, rather, to Vietnamese political
sensibility by speaking of family relationships between the two courts and
conflicts between the offspring of two royal concubines. Le Van Duyet's
report to the Vietnamese emperor Minh Mang ran thus:

Quy Hop. Third month of the Eighth year of the reign of Emperor Minh Mang,
the kingdom of Ten Thousand Elephants [Vientiane] and the kingdom of Siam
are waging war. The king of the country of the Ten Thousand Elephants, whose
name is A No [Chao Anoul, gave one of his daughters to the king of Siam
[Rama 111]; she gave birth to a son named Sam- Ma-Yet. But the king of Siam
had also taken a compatriot as a spouse who give birth to a son named Thon-
Khi-Fa. When he grew up, he plotted to seize the seniority right and to have
Sam-Ma-Yet assassinated. The king of Siam did not restrain Thon-Khi-Fa
when the king learned of his project. Thus, A No had a grievance with the
Siamese and sent his army against the stronghold of Co-Lac [Khorat]. Full
of bitterness, the king of Siam trusted Chao Wang Na [Vice King Bowon]
with tens of thousands of soldiers to attack the country of Ten Thousand
Elephants. Vice King Le Van Duyet received intelligence from the border
areas and reported it to the court. 122

Anou probably hoped this report would appeal to Le Van Duyet and
gain his support, for the governor of Saigon was well-known for his role
in a similar situation when he plotted with Vietnam's legitimate heir to unseat
the emperor, Minh Mang, who was the son of a concubine.123 Anou's attempts
to exploit an internecine rift within the court of Hu6 might have been rewarded,
but were planted too late for him to harvest the fruit. After Anou had been
chased from his kingdom, the governor Le Van Duyet and his peer Tran Kim
Hoan, pledged to organize politico-military intervention in Laos and Cambodia
despite opposition from the military party in Vietnam and from the Vietnamese
emperor, Minh Mang.124

However Anou did not narrowly cast his net by asking only for Le Van
Duyet's support. He also appealed specifically to Minh Mang. Just before the
Lao withdrew from Khorat, Anou sent an embassy to the court of Hue. To
persuade Minh Mang to accede to his actions at Khorat, Anou mentioned
the felony committed by Khorat's governor, who had mobilized six towns
against Vientiane.125 Anou's messages during this campaign were scripted
in code. For example, to please Minh Mang he avoided using Rama III's name
or calling Siam's action an invasion, but situated his own actions in the feudal
context of a conflict between a suzerain, Anou, and his "vassal," the governor
of Khorat, who had initially sided with him but then traitorously appealed to
Siam. Phagna Muang Chan, the Prime Minister of Vientiane,

122 Nguyen Le Thi (1977) (V), p. 59. The Vietnamese chronicle of the history of relations between Siam and Cambodia provides the same version. See Cao Mien Xiem La Su Tich (p. 31), quoted in Archaimbault (1967), p. 581.

123 On the strife within HuO's court, see Gagetin's testimony. Gagelin (1830), p. 364.

124 Nguyen Le Thi (1977) (V), introduction, p. 11. See also Pham Nguyen Long (1972) (V). 125 Nguyen Le Thi (1977) (V), p. 59.

 


38. KHORAT, THE SITE OF THE LAO DIPLOMATIC OFFENSIVE

 

led Anou's embassy to Minh Mang. Other members included the governor
of Nakhon Phanom, a Vietnamese sympathizer, Phagna Siang Tai, who
accompanied Chao Ratsavong in his raid on Saraburi, and the chief of
Muang Thuoc, a Lao town bordering Vietnam.126 This high-ranking
embassy encountered difficulties on its way from Khorat to Nakhon
Phanom; members had to use their swords against the population of
Khorat, which had risen against Anou.

In addition to these political maneuvers and diplomatic deals issued
by the Lao from their headquarters in Khorat, Anou had to cope with
military situations on the field. The first sign that his plans might collapse
came when the Lao failed to capture the governor of Khorat. The second
problem, one that increased tension within the Lao camp, involved the
Suryaphakdi case. Anou's initial strategies had been effectively disturbed
by Suryaphakdi, the Siamese official who directed the tattooing campaign
and yet was allowed to escape capture by the Lao forces at Kalasin. By
winning the ear of Chao Anou's vice king, Chao Tissa, this crafty official
managed to pervert Anou's original directives to the Lao as they moved
over the Khorat Plateau.

While the prisoner of Tissa at Kalasin, Suryaphakdi had long daily
discussions with the Lao vice king in his camp. In exchange for his
freedom, Suryaphakdi promised Tissa to steal the Emerald Buddha for the
Lao and to evacuate and repatriate the Lao settled in Bangkok who
purportedly formed half of the population of the Siamese metropolis.127
it is' unclear if Suryaphakdi fooled Tissa, as Thai historians maintain, or
if Tissa plotted with this member of Bangkok officialdom. In any case,
when Suryaphakdi reached Anou's camp at Thale So, Khorat, having
arrived safely thanks to Tissa's safe-conduct guarantee, he gave Anou
a letter written by Tissa, disclosing the scheme and Tissa's agreement.
The daring scheme appealed to Anou and he felt uncomfortable scrapping
a plan that his vice king had already approved, particularly since he and
Tissa had argued earlier about the conflict with Siam. Anou finally decided
to let Suryaphakdi go ahead, but he soon had second thoughts about the
reliability of the Thai official and sent his son, Chao Thong, to catch
Suryaphakdi and direct him to have Phra Anositphithak join the general-
staff "because he is appreciated there." Already seated on the back of his
elephant, Suryaphakdi handed over this precious hostage to the Lao; Phra
Anositphithak is no other than the brother of Chaophraya Aphaiphuthon,
Prime-Minister of Siam and commander of the third Siamese army.
Suryaphakdi departed with a smile.
Crossing the Dong Phraya Fai mountain chain, Suryaphakdi encountered
Chao Ratsavong on his return from the raid on Saraburi. Chao Ratsavong
knew Suryaphakdi was the deputy-chief of the Siamese police and a long-
time favorite of Rama III's, so he wished to behead Suryaphakdi on the spot.
But Phagna Siang Tai and other Lao officers intervened to dissuade him,
saying, "Chao Yam Khra Mom [Anou] has already authorized him to go, to
do otherwise would mean contravening

126 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 98.

127 Manich states: "The letter [from Viceroy Tissal said that the bearer (Phra Suryaphakdi) sides with Tissa and should be sent to Bangkok on a secret mission to repatriate the Lao population in Bangkok.' Manich (1967), p. 207. It is difficult to imagine how Suryaphakdi could have arranged the removal of half of Bangkok's population, even if he had intended to. Capture of the Emerald Buddha was more feasible, and therefore presented an irresistible temptation. A small commando group could have wormed its way through the Thai armies at Prachinburi and Tha Rua and entered Bangkok without a problem. The possibility explains why Rama III sealed off Bangkok when informed of the presence of the Lao at Khorat.

 


38. KHORAT, THE SITE OF THE LAO DIPLOMATIC OFFENSIVE

 

his order."128 Standing speechless, Chao Ratsavong let him go his way,
and thus Suryaphakdi quickly descended the slope of the Khorat Plateau.
When he reached Bowon's camp at Tha Rua, Suryaphakdi immediately
gave him the first-hand information he had obtained during his stay
deep inside enemy lines. He was later received, in a solemn audience,
by Rama III, who was so satisfied with the wealth of hard facts collected
by this capable Siamese official that he assigned him to join the general-
staff of Vice King Bowon. The network of Lao and Lao sympathizers
living in Bangkok, a network that Tissa had described to Suryaphakdi
during their long talks in Kalasin, was subsequently wiped out. As for
the Emerald Buddha's fate, Archbishop Bruguiere wrote in a private
letter from Bangkok in January 1829: "People were afraid, with reason,
that he [the Emerald Buddha] would have gone to lead the Laotians,
his ancient compatriots who are in revolt. Our King [Rama III], a wise
statesman, wanted to prevent this misfortune. He therefore has chained
the poor god and has given him guards."129

In the meantime, Anou lost impetus and direction. In Khorat, a
capital famous for its hospitality to soldiers,1,30 Anou saddled
himself with eight concubines. He became so infatuated with the
daughter of the governor of Khorat that he arranged to have her
at the center of the knot-cutting ceremony in his camp and made
her the page who carried his ceremonial sword.131 As the Lao army
wallowed in this oriental Capoue, its preparation for combat faltered:
discipline completely broke down. After their first test of strength,
which they failed, Anou punished his soldiers according to an ancient,
brutal policy, in which approximately one of every ten soldiers and
officers was killed. By this time, however, nothing, least of all this
self- defeating policy, could save Anou's campaign.

Anou soon felt the full force of the Siamese armies at Khorat. The day
following Chao Ratsavong's departure from Saraburi, the Siamese armies
marched in.132 Bowon brought his headquarters forward to Kwng Khoi
to better scale the slope of the Khorat Plateau, which was as high as seven
sugar palm trees, according to locals. His forward thrust coincided with the
fall of a Lao fortress in the far north at Na Yom, near Phetchabun-Lomsak,
roughly two hundred kilometers from Vientiane on the border with the Lan
Na countries. Thus, the Lao armies' hard-won reputation for invincibility,
gained during the advance on Khorat, vanished into thin air. Despite the
impending rainy season, the three Siamese armies did not return to their
garrison, as they had in previous campaigns. This upset Lao plans, which
they had written according to the region's unspoken rule that opponents
would automatically suspend hostilities when the rains came. Bowon agreed
with the Siamese decision to

128 Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), p. 45. According to Thiphakorawong, the expression "Chao Yam Khra Mom" referred to Anou. The expression does not, however, appear in any Lao chronicles about Anou or any Thai archival documents. One Lao document (Chotmaihet yo miiang Vientiane, Luang Prabang) used the expression once, but to refer to king Manthathurat of Luang Prabang.

129 Brugiere (1831), p. 132.

130 TNL Document Rama IH (20) 1189/4, testimony of Nai Saeng, July 16,1827.

131 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 54; Chotmaihet nakhon ratchasima (1985) (T), pp. 263-264.

132 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 37.

 


38. KHORAT, THE SITE OF THE LAO DIPLOMATIC OFFENSIVE

 

press on, and after the seizure of Vientiane he wrote to Rama III, "if we
delay the campaign for one year, it will be excessively difficult.133

Chao Ratsavong went to rally the troops at Khorat, after which he stayed
three days with Anou to consult about the dramatic intervention of the
British mercenaries on the Thai side at Saraburi-134 Then Chao Ratsavong
left Khorat with one thousand men, including two hundred from Lomsak,
commanded by their leader Ratsabut (the fourth-ranking official of Lomsak).
Traveling via Phu Khieo, this party reached Lomsak after a restless ten-day
ride along the trail that skirts the mountain range separating the Mekong
basin from the Menam Chaophraya valley.13,5 Meanwhile,
Anou rushed messengers to accelerate the completion of the fortress at Ban Thaen.136
Anou later changed his mind and decided to abandon the fort because its location was "too
close to Khorat." Instead, he ordered a new bastion built at Nong Bua Lam Phu. Though
his troops had yet to engage in the greatest battle of the war, danger was nearby. Anou
now prepared to face this terrible military challenge, for all his political and diplomatic
efforts had floundered. Unfortunately for Anou, the military situation on the field was
less than desirable. A portion of the population that his followers had herded to Vientiane
fled into the forests, while local elites passively resisted him. Sporadic news about locals
resisting the Lao forces deflated the little self-confidence the Lao high command had
managed to gain. For example, the people of Dan Lam Chak, near Khorat, slaughtered
a small escort of Vientiane Lao when the party reached a town bordering Vientiane. Also,
Suwannaphum's population continued stubbornly to hold their ground against Tissa's
onslaught. The Lao ordeal had just begun, and these initial reactions proved to them
that ultimately they would have to fend for themselves.

133 TNL Document Rama III (48) 1189/4 khai.

134 Thai historiography ignores the decisive intervention of British mercenaries against the Lao. Robert Hunter, who led them, noted that once he was assisted by British, "Manila-men,' and 'Malay lascars,' he pulverized the Lao under an "iron tempest. " Neale recounts a battle near Ayudhya, which must be a reference Bo Phong, a place mentioned on an 1827 Thai strategic map. Neale (1852), pp. 48-51. In addition, see remarks about Bo Phong by Kennedy (1970), p. 337. The presence of British mercenaries was indirectly corroborated by a Thai document, in alluding to a letter in English sent to Bowon's headquarters near Vientiane. See TNL Document Rama III (86) 1189/11 ching, Chasaenyakon to Phraya Sisahathep, June 25, 1827.

135 TNL Document Rama III (79) 1189/11 ngu.

136 TNL Document Rama III (29) 1189/1; Document Rama III (26) 1189/4 kai.