Nguyễn Trung Trực (1839 – October 27, 1868) was a Vietnamese fisherman who organized and led village militia forces which fought against French colonial forces in the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam in the 1860s. He was active in Tân An (now part of Long An Province) and Rạch Giá (now part of Kiên Giang Province) from the initial French invasion until he was captured and executed.
The process of Vietnam's colonization began in September 1858 when a Franco-Spanish force landed at Da Nang in central Vietnam and attempted to proceed to the Vietnamese imperial capital of Huế. After meeting stiff resistance, they sailed down to the less-defended south, and quickly captured the Citadel of Saigon in February 1859, before looting and razing it. The leaderless and defeated imperial troops fled in disarray. The French then withdrew, but returned in 1861 in a more serious attempt to claim and occupy Vietnamese territory. In February of that year, the French attacked the citadel of Ky Hoa, seizing the fort after two days, along with a large quantity of small arms, artillery and food. Trương Định, a local partisan leader who fought at Ky Hoa, incorporated soldiers from the defeated imperial army into his ranks, as its commander had committed suicide.
In 1861, the resistance leaders in the Gò Công area delegated Dinh to travel to Biên Hòa to seek permission from imperial military commissioner Nguyen Ba Nghi to "turn around the situation". Dinh's men were armed with bladed spears, fire lances, knives, sabers, bamboo sticks and swords, trained and on call as necessary. Truc was one of the partisan leaders who assisted Dinh. Truc's partisan band was based at Tân An The French were aware of his activities, with an intelligence dossier calling him a "likable and intelligent man".
In the initial phase of the conflict, the local militias concentrated on evacuating the populace from areas that had been taken over by the French, while urging those who chose to stay to not cooperate with the Europeans. Snipers were deployed into the occupied areas to assassinate isolated French soldiers. The partisan forces at Gò Công grew to around 6,000 men by June 1861, and the French had begun to report that junks from Singapore and Hong Kong had arrived with shipments of European-made weapons. The forces began inflicting substantial casualties on the European troops, largely because of their intimate knowledge of the terrain, skill in hit-and-run guerrilla tactics, and support from villagers. They focused on chasing French soldiers around the countryside, attacking military installations that were left undefended as a consequence of their guerrilla pursuit.
One of the main objectives of the resistance was to disrupt the transport of rice to Cholon, the main commercial hub of southern Vietnam, by attacking and either destroying or capturing French-controlled cargo transports (called lorchas) using the local waterways. A French report in November 1861 noted that shipping had been severely disrupted despite high levels of French naval protection. The most notable of the seaborne attacks was Truc's burning of the lorcha L'Esperance on Nhat Tao canal on December 10, 1861.
The Nhat Tao canal connected the eastern and western branches of the Vàm Cỏ river. The French frequently used the Vam Co in their operations, utilising it to travel between the town of Mỹ Tho in the rice-growing Mekong Delta, and Gia Định and Cholon, the main city and business hub in southern Vietnam. The strategic importance of Nhat Tao canal to the French transport of rice led them to build three military outposts in close proximity. They were at Rach Kien to the north, Tân An to the east and Gia Thanh to the south. The canal had been the previous object of partisan activity with the objective of disrupting the French network.
The attack against L'Espérance started at midday at Nhat Tao village, 10 km southwest of Tân An. Today the site is the location of An Nhat Tan village in Van Co District of Long An Province. Truc's 150 men were grouped into three columns. The first group of 61 men under Hoang Khac Nhuong was to attack a nearby pro-French village in order to provoke an incident and lure the French forces into an ambush. Truc commanded the second group of 59 partisans along with Vo Van Quang, and was assigned to burn and sink the vessel. A third force of 30 men was commanded by Ho Quang and Nguyen Van Hoc. Their objective was to impede any French reinforcements and to help in the attack on the vessel.
After Nhuong's men had attacked the village, Lieutenant Parfait, commander of the lorcha, instructed his troops to follow them to nearby villages. Truc's group, who had disguised themselves as rice merchants, travelled in five boats and approached the French vessel under the pretext of applying for travel permits. When the boats came within range, Truc and his men boarded the vessel using hand-to-hand weapons such as knives and bayonets, killing 20 French sailors and their Vietnamese assistants. The attack took place so quickly that the crew were unable to send distress signals for reinforcements. The 30 men under the command of Quang and Hoc, who were intended to block French reinforcements, jumped into the water and used axes to scuttle the lorcha, before setting it ablaze. Only five of the crew, two French and three Filipinos, managed to escape death by hiding in the bushes by the waterside for three days.
When Lieutenant Parfait returned, he attempted to retaliate against the surrounding villages. However, the villagers had been aware of events and had already been evacuated, so the French officer managed only to burn and destroy the houses, livestock and rice fields.
The attack buoyed local Vietnamese morale and gave them the belief that they could fight against French naval forces. The French Inspector of Indigenous Affairs at Thủ Dầu Một, Grammont, stated that "This event made a big impression on the Vietnamese. They considered it as a destined turn of their fortune." The sinking earned the specific praise of Emperor Tự Đức, who described the incident as "most outstanding". This prompted the emperor to promote Truc to be the chief of Ha Tien Province.
However, the overall Vietnamese military performance was not as successful. On June 5, 1862, the court's plenipotentiary Phan Than Gian and another official Lam Duy Hiep signed the Treaty of Saigon. This agreement ceded the three southern provinces of Gia Định, Dinh Tuong and Biên Hòa to become the French colony of Cochinchina. The treaty was accompanied by financial compensation to France, religious concessions to missionaries and commercial opportunities to European merchants. Nevertheless, Truc continued his resistance in defiance of the treaty.
On June 15, 1866, in one attack, he killed five French officers and captured 100 firearms, then returned to Ha Tien where he built up another peasant movement at Cua San.
In mid-1868, Truc successfully attacked the French fortress at Kiên Giang in Rạch Giá, killing the French-installed provincial chief and 30 of the opposition troops. In order to capture his strongholds and regain the citadel, the French took his mother hostage. French forces then regained control of the fort and captured Truc, executing him on October 27, 1868.
Despite ordering the partisans to respect the Treaty of Saigon and stop fighting the French in the south, Tự Đức praised the "righteousness" of Truc and his men. Following Truc's execution, he composed the poem:
How fearsome was that fisherman!
His great talent is admired by all! Burning the French ship at Nhat Tao village, Leveling the French ramparts at Kiên Giang, Opposing the common enemies of people and king. Having sworn to risk his life for the country, His memory will be rewarded for one thousand years. What an example of our righteous and faithful people.
Although Truc was disobeying Tự Đức's orders to stop the insurgency, the emperor still viewed his actions as a service to the monarchy.
|“||Only when all the grass in Vietnam has been pulled out then only will there be no Vietnamese to fight the aggressors||”|