Military Times NOW hosts the HomeOfHeroes  Awards & Citations Database

 

Stories of American Heroes - Brought to you from the "Home of Heroes" - Pueblo, Colorado


The Hermit Kingdom

And the General Sherman Incident

 

 

 

 

The Struggle for Privacy

 

 

For centuries the Orient has been both mysterious and fascinating to European and Western cultures. Perhaps much of that mystery was due the fact that, for the most part, little was known of the Orient and its people. Western literature often portrayed these Asian inhabitants as barbarians...ruthless, backward, and aggressive. For the most part nothing could have been further from the truth. 

The people that lived on the Corean peninsula that jutted out from the Manchurian border and separated the Sea of Japan from the Yellow Sea were indeed a very private culture. When their privacy was invaded they could indeed be brutal in their treatment of invaders. Even so, they were a very civilized people that had developed a great sense of nationalism during the Choson (Yi) Dynasty, one of the longest running dominations by any dynasty in world history.

Founded by Yi Songgye in 1392, the Choson Dynasty prospered under a people felt threatened to the north by Manchuria and to the west by Japan. Strong leadership and a highly developed value system of Confucianism welded the people together, despite occasional uprisings from within. The strong monarchial system protected the Kingdom of Choson from both philosophical and armed invasions from outside the realm. 

Throughout the centuries Choson merchants and leaders engaged a in limited contact with Japan and a slightly more expanded contact with China. So intense was the isolationism within Choson however, that when the first recorded Europeans landed on the peninsula in 1628 (three Dutch sailors who were shipwrecked off Cheju Island), they were not allowed to leave. They were treated well by their rescuers and two of them were later killed defending Choson against the Manchurians. The third took the Korean name Pak Yon and lived his full life in the capitol at Seoul. 

Similar treatment was given to survivors of another Dutch shipwreck in 1653. Though 15 years later some of them were able to, the maritime world understood that if you went aground in Corean waters you would disappear for eternity. This, like the pre-Columbus tales of falling off the edge of the flat planet, added an even more ominous mystery to a little known kingdom. (One of the survivors from the 1653 shipwreck was Hendrick Hamel, who later wrote about his adventures in Corea, providing European readers with their first glimpse of what was becoming the Hermit Kingdom.) 

During the 19th century both European and western traders began looking to the Orient as fertile grounds for commerce. In 1844 the U.S. Congress considered, then tabled, a motion to open trade with Corea. Over the following 20 years however, the Orient was subjected to increased, though unwanted, interest from foreign shipping and trading concerns. On March 31, 1854, the United States and Japan signed the Treaty of Kanagawa, opening Japanese ports to American ships. Six years later the French and British invaded China, seizing the capitol at Peking. While the Chinese fought to hold their capitol, Russia moved in from the east to easily grab 350,000 square miles of Chinese lands in the Ussuri territory. On the Corean peninsula the Choson people watched the western incursion into the Orient with fear and concern.

The year 1864 brought a change of leadership to Corea when Ch'olechong, the 25th king of the Choson Dynasty, died without leaving a male heir. In accordance with her rights under custom and law the queen mother took possession of the king's seal, the symbol of enthronement. After consulting with her advisors and statesmen she adopted Kojong, the second son of Yi Ha-ung. Kojong was only thirteen years old when he ascended to the throne, and in his place his father ruled the Choson Kingdom. Adopting the title Taewongun, literally interpreted "Prince of the Great Court", Yi Ha-ung became one of the strongest leaders of the Choson Dynasty during a critical period of trial, crisis, and increased interest from abroad. 

In the name of his son King Kojong, the Taewongun initiated his best efforts to bring harmony to the kingdom, while resisting any influences from the outside world. He quickly recognized that treaties with western nations would most probably be one sided, as had been the treaties signed with Japan and China. These would benefit no one but the westerners. (The term Westerner not only applied to nations of the western hemisphere, but also those of Europe which was also west of Corea.) 

Taewongun also firmly believed that the foreign missionaries with their Christian teachings were diluting the kingdom with unwanted ideas. Under King Ch'olechong persecution of Christians in Corea had eased for the first time in the kingdom's history. The Taewongun's efforts to return his country to the traditions of Confucianism ultimately led to the death of nine of the twelve French Catholic priests in Korea, and nearly 10,000 of their native converts.

 


Byung in (1866) 

The year that Westerners called "1866" was known as "Byung-in" in Corea, a country that had now become known as "The Hermit Kingdom" because of its strong policies of isolationism. In Byung-in a series of events set in motion the unwanted intrusion of foreign nations on Corean soil. These would eventually topple one of the world's longest lasting ruling dynasties. In Byung-in the French invaded Corea in what became known as the Byunginyangyo...."Western disturbance" yangyo in the year byung in. * (Many historical references translate the Korean characters for that year with the Romanized letter "P", referring to the year as pyong and the French invasion as Pyonginyangyo.)

During the Taewongun's February 1866 crackdown on the spread of Catholicism in his kingdom, three priests managed to escape to China including Father Felix-Clair Ridel. Upon learning of the fate of the Catholics in Corea, French consul Gabriel Deveria boarded the gunboat of Rear Admiral Gustav Roze, commander of the French empire's Far Eastern Squadron. Roze immediately cancelled plans to sail for Nagasaki, while Ridel forwarded the sad news on to the French diplomat in China, Henri de Bellonet. On July 13 Bellonet sent a dispatch to Admiral Roze informing him:

"In receiving the news of the general massacre of Christians and missionaries in Corea, you have no doubt thought like myself that the slightest delay in the punishment of this bloody outrage could result in serious endangerment to the 500 (other) missionaries preaching in China."

Meanwhile, the French foreign minister also sent a dispatch to the American consul in Peking,suggesting a joint French-American expedition. Americans people were weary of war, this request coming only a year after the end of the great Civil War. More importantly though, the recent deaths of the French priests and native Catholics had no direct bearing on the United States or its own citizens. Without any personal reason to join the French in the foray to Corea, the American consul declined the invitation. 

The American denial was something of a setback for the French but Rear Admiral Roze consolidated his fleet in Qufu, China for a planned early fall incursion in Korea. Then some unexpected uprisings in Indochina, which included part of the far-flung French empire, delayed him. During that delay a mysterious incident occurred that finally made the actions of the Hermit Kingdom personal for the United States.

 

 

 "In August, 1866, the American schooner General Sherman, a merchant vessel, was at anchor in the Ping-Yang River, Corea, when, for some reason never sufficiently ascertained, the treacherous natives unexpectedly sent fire-rafts against the vessel on a dark night, boarder her in the ensuing confusion and murdered the crew to the last man."

From: Acts of Bravery
by W.F. Beyer and O.F. Keydel
1907 

 

 

 

 

 

The General Sherman Incident

Early western reports surrounding the disappearance and loss of the General Sherman were rooted in the mystery and erroneous perceptions most foreigners had of the Hermit Kingdom. There really wasn't much mystery to the incident. As early as 1868 Corean officials acknowledged in a letter to Captain John Febiger of the USS Shenandoah that the General Sherman had made an unauthorized entry into Corea and that all crewmen had been killed. The events leading to the incident were also recorded in detail in the Kojong Sil-rok by a Corean eyewitness.

 

During the American Civil War the Princess Royal had served first as a Confederate blockade-runner. She was captured by the USS Unadilla near Charleston, SC in 1863 and was refitted as a US Navy gunship. As such, she was well armored and heavily armed with two 12-inch cannon. Following the war she was purchased by W. B. Preston, an American businessman who put her into service as a merchant vessel. Mr. Preston retained the heavy cannons that had served the Princess Royal well during the war, realizing that there were also dangers to be faced when she went to sea as a merchant ship.

In August of 1866 the Princess Royal was under contract to the British firm of Meadows & Co. out of Tientsin, China. The vessel was commanded by Captain Page and Chief Mate Wilson Loaded and was loaded with cotton, tin sheets, glass and other marketable goods. When the General Sherman steamed out of Chefoo, China on August 9 the only other westerners aboard the ship were the vessel's owner Mr. Preston, a British trader named George Hogarth, and a Protestant missionary named Robert Jermain Thomas. Reverend Thomas accompanied the expedition as an interpreter.

 

In August of 1866 the Princess Royal was under contract to the British firm of Meadows & Co. out of Tientsin, China.  Loaded with cotton, tin sheets, glass and other marketable goods, the vessel was commanded by Captain Page and Chief Mate Wilson.  When the General Sherman steamed out of Chefoo, China on August 9th, the only other westerners aboard the ship were the vessel's owner Mr. Preston, a British trader named George Hogarth, and a Protestant missionary named Robert Jermain Thomas.  Reverend Thomas accompanied the expedition as an interpreter.  The crew, thirteen Chinese and three Malays, had been recruited primarily from the bars in Tientsin, and boasted that should the Coreans refuse to trade with the ship, they would loot the cities and return with Corean gold and other valuables.  From the moment the General Sherman began its journey, it was an incident looking for a circumstance.

The crew, thirteen Chinese and three Malays, had been recruited primarily from the bars in Tientsin and boasted that should the Coreans refuse to trade with the ship, they would loot the cities and return with Corean gold and other valuables. From the moment the General Sherman began its journey, it was an incident looking for a circumstance.

On August 16 the General Sherman entered the inlet that forms the mouth of the Tae-dong River that flows inland towards the Corean city of Pyongyang. There the crew dropped anchor near Kupsumun, hoping to make contact with local merchants and trade the goods aboard the merchant ship for Corean leopard skins, rice, paper, gold and ginseng. 

Governor Park Kyoo Soo of Pyung-an sent an emissary to meet with the American ship captain and informed him that the kingdom did not engage in trade with foreigners. Though the General Sherman was unwelcome in their waters, the Coreans did offer to provide provisions to hurry it on its way to other regions.

As soon as the Corean emissary departed to report back to Park Kyoo Soo, Captain Page hoisted anchor and steamed up the Tae-dong River towards Pyongyang. The Crow Rapids halted his unauthorized progress and the General Sherman anchored for the night. The following morning an unusually high tide arose after a night of heavy rain that lifted the Tae-dong River to record levels. The General Sherman was able to cross the rapids and proceed further inland towards Pyongyang. There Governor Park sent requested provisions to the ship with a message: "You have reached the walls of our city when asked to stay put at Keupsa Gate. You insist on trading with us, which is forbidden. Your actions have created a grave situation so much so that I must inform my King and then decide what to do with you people." The message was delivered by Governor Park's aid, Yi Hong ik. 

Tension mounted on both sides in the days that followed while Governor Park awaited a decision from the king as to how to deal with the invaders. Curious civilians crowded the riverbanks during daylight hours to watch the strange ship from the West. On August 27 Yi Hong-ik was invited back aboard the General Sherman, and then kidnapped. (Some accounts state that a small party of the American ship's crew attempted to leave the vessel in a small boat, which was then pursued by Yi Hong-ik, resulting in his captivity aboard the General Sherman.) 

Late in August the king's edict finally reached Governor Park: "Tell them to leave at once. If they do not obey, kill them." But by now it was no simple matter. The waters of the Tae-dong River had returned to normal and the encroaching General Sherman was trapped inland. 

Differing accounts relate conflicting sequences of events in the last days of the General Sherman. What is generally agreed to by most reports is that on August 31 the cannons of the merchant vessel fired into a crowd along the shore, killing a dozen Corean soldiers and many civilians. The soldiers withdrew to plan their own attack on the General Sherman and hostilities continued for four days with civilians bombarding the ship with rocks and flaming arrows. The General Sherman responded with canon fire. On September 5th Governor Park ordered the General Sherman destroyed and the Coreans prepared "turtle boats" for their attack.

On September 5th Governor Park ordered the General Sherman destroyed, and the Coreans prepared "turtle boats" for their attack.  

Kobuksons, the fire-breathing turtle boats of Corea, were the legendary invention of Yi Sun-sin during the Japanese invasion of Korea (1592-1598). Purportedly the small boats were overlaid with iron plating and covered with spikes to prevent the enemy from boarding them. Ports along the side allowed oars to protrude, with guns also pointing in all directions. The boats' flat bottoms enabled them to navigate easily in shallow water. They were also extremely maneuverable.

The unique boat got its name from a large turtlehead at the bow, which served both as an efficient ramming device, and also a device for spewing clouds of noxious sulfur smoke. Some were even reported to have contained fire-throwing cannon. Corean folklore and legend recalled how, with a fleet of only 80 ships, Admiral Yi victoriously turned back the Japanese fleet of 800 warships.

The 19th century turtle boat that attacked the General Sherman was probably a makeshift vessel, a hastily converted fishing boat that was quickly covered with tin and cowhides. It began firing its cannon outdated cannon when it neared the stranded vessel. In this battle the legendary Corean warship was unsuccessful, shells bouncing harmlessly off the thick armored plating of the General Sherman.

The Coreans then tied together two smaller boats loaded with firewood, sulfur and salt peter. When set ablaze the two boats were dispatched on a collision course with the American vessel. The fire went out before the boats reached their destination. A second set of fireboats was readied, but was pushed away by the crew when it reached the merchant ship. A third set of fireboats reached their destination, turning the General Sherman into an inferno that took many aboard to their death. Those members of the crew that jumped into the river and swam to shore were quickly captured by the Coreans and beaten to death. The only survivor was Yi Hong-ik, who was rescued in the confusion. 

The account recorded in Kojong Sil-rok states, "The enemy ship was totally burned down and there remained only her iron ribs that looked like posts driven into the ground." Other later reports stated that the ship was NOT totally destroyed, and US Naval archives indicate that the ship may have been returned in 1868 and placed in service as a civilian steamship until she sank on January 10, 1874, near Wilmington, North Carolina. 

Whether completely destroyed on the Tae-dong River in 1866, partially destroyed and then hidden by the Coreans, or returned to the United States covertly at a later date, the fact remained that the General Sherman disappeared on September 5, 1866...along with every last member of her crew. All that was ever publicly known or seen of the ship's demise were the two large cannon that were taken for display at the armory of Pyongyang, and her anchor chains which were hung from the East Gate Tower as a symbol of the Corean victory. These served as a warning to other invaders.

 

 

Byunginyangyo

The inland capitol city of Seoul sits on the Han River which flows northwest into the Yellow Sea. The convergence of the Han River with the Imjin and Yeasung rivers near Kanghwa Island has filled the seaward inlet with silt which, when the tide is out, becomes miles of mud beds. These, coupled with some of the world's most extreme tides, make the water route to Seoul both difficult, and dangerous. At the mouth of the Han River is Kanghwa Island, Korea's fifth largest island. Like a vigilant sentry Kanghwa guards the only water route to the capitol. Throughout the centuries, the island had been built up with a series of well-established fortifications. Because of the resistance of the Hermit Kingdom to outside countries, very little charting of the dangerous waters had been accomplished. 

While awaiting the arrival of his fleet to make his own incursion into Corea, Rear Admiral Roze determined to make a reconnaissance of the area before making his punishing assault on the barbarians who had killed the Catholic priests and their converts. With three ships carrying 65 men including escaped priest Father Ridel, he departed Qufu on September 18. Five days later Admiral Roze passed Kanghwa Island to steam up the Han River towards Seoul.

"It is deplorable that the dirty foreigners invaded deep into the Han River," Taewongun announced. He then ordered his military commanders to propose a plan to resist the invading French ships. Before the Corean military could mount opposition however, Admiral Roze sailed his ships back to Cheefoo. "We let those dirty mobsters keep their lives only because we put emphasis on generosity," Taewongun subsequently proclaimed.

Admiral Roze had not left Corean waters as a gesture of benevolence to the Hermit Kingdom's preference for privacy, however. Instead he returned to assemble a fleet of sufficient size to mount an armed attack. His two-week exploratory mission had convinced the Admiral that he did not have enough men to attack the Corean capitol, so he planned instead for an invasion of Kanghwa Island at the entrance of the Han River. With a fleet of seven ships and a force of 600 men he departed China on October 11 for a return to Corea. 

October 13th the French flotilla reached Corean waters and anchored off Mulchi Island. With the dawn on the following day a landing force of 450 men went ashore on the north end of Kanghwa Island. The French soldiers marched quickly towards the town of Kapkotji and the Kapgot Fortress. It was deserted and the French moved boldly through the gates.

Taewongun was aware of the French invasion and held an emergency meeting of the State council in Seoul on October 15 to form a Special Defense Command under Yi Kyong-ha. On October 16 as Yi Kyong-ha was taking steps to secure the Han River and the mainland, Admiral Roze sent a force from the French-held Kapgot Fortress to Kanghwa City. When the troops reached the northeast gate the Coreans opened fire. It was the first combat action of the 1866 western disturbance, the Byunginyangyo. 

The skirmish was brief and French gunfire drove the defenders from the walls of Kanghwa City. Then the invaders marched back to their captured bivouac at the Kapgot Fortress. The following day they returned and, upon finding the city deserted, seized the administrative building. They plundered the city for spoils of war. In addition they entered the royal library of the administration building, which had been previously inhabited by Governor Yi In-ki. The French took vast quantities of books and ancient manuscripts including irreplaceable records of the culture of the Hermit Kingdom. These remain in French possession to this day.

Over the ten days that followed, Admiral Roze headquartered his force out of Kanghwa City while buttressing the defenses of the separately walled administration building for an expected counter attack. Rumors of a Corean response to the invasion had circulated widely, but by October 25th no sign of the Corean forces had been seen. The following day the French Admiral ordered two platoons under the direction of Lieutenant Commander Olivier Thouars to cross the Kanghwa Straits on the north end of the island to gather intelligence on the Corean activities. As the soldiers began unloading from their small boats on the Corean mainland they were met with a withering fire from the village. The invading soldiers fixed bayonets and charged the village amid the hail of fire. The Coreans pulled back to the protective walls of the Munsu Mountain Fortress. The French withdrew across the strait and back to Kanghwa, two of their number dead and many more wounded. 

To prevent the Coreans from using the boats that dotted Kanghwa Island against him, Admiral Roze ordered their complete destruction. On November 2nd his ships bombarded the naval headquarters of Jyonggi province, destroying more of the Corean ships. Meanwhile, the Taewongun amassed a force of nearly 10,000 Corean troops on the mainland, well within sight of Kanghwa from across the strait. For the French the situation was now turning perilous. 

On November 7th Admiral Roze received word that a large force of Coreans had landed on the southern coast of Kanghwa and occupied the Buddhist monastery at Chondung. Two days later he ordered Commander Marius Olivier to attack the Chondung temple with 150 men. 

Corean forces prepared for the enemy's arrival in a fashion that served them well. They remained well hidden while the French soldiers approached. With the exception of the earlier landing on the mainland, the French had thus far encountered little resistance. As Commander Olivier proceeded towards the temple without incident it appeared he had little to fear. He moved within 300 meters of the monastery wall without any sign of the Coreans and then sent a scouting party towards the front gate. Suddenly the Coreans sprang from their places of concealment, quickly wounding nearly thirty men and five French officers. Commander Olivier pulled his forces back a safe distance to treat the wounded, and then retreated to Kanghwa City before darkness fell. 

By this time Admiral Roze had reached the conclusion that there would be no negotiations with the Taewongun, no reparations for past grievances, and no hope for agreement or treaties to open the Hermit Kingdom to the outside world. On November 11 he burned Kanghwa City to the ground and the French fleet left Korean waters, their mission an utter failure. The Byunginyangyo was over.

 

 

 The French invasion of 1866 only served to galvanize the resistance of the Hermit Kingdom against the outside world. It seemed when foreign ships arrived it meant only pillage, plunder, and death for Corean citizens. Rear Admiral Roze and French diplomat Henri de Bellonet were reprimanded by the French Government for their role in the fiasco. Meanwhile Taewongun rejoiced in his double victory: at Pyongyang over the American ship, and Kanghwa Island over the French fleet. He issued a proclamation establishing an official policy of isolation, and had stone tablets erected throughout the Hermit Kingdom reading:

"Not to fight back when invaded by the Western barbarians is to invite further attacks."

Unfortunately for members of the United States Navy and Marine Corps, their own politicians and policy makers never took the time to translate the wording on those stone tablets, and heed the message.

 

Shinmiyangyo
The Other Korean War

Preface
History Repeated

The Hermit Kingdom
And the General Sherman

Amphibious Assault
The Landing at Kanghwa 

The Citadel
Valor on Two Sides 


Print our 7-page 
(with Cover)
Medal of Honor - 
Korea, 1871

E-Book


To print ALL the pages from this series of stories in a full-color downloadable BOOK format:

DOWNLOAD 
PDF     WORD
Book Includes Extra Official reports not in these pages.

Special Acknowledgment to Mr. Thomas Duvernay who has spent several years researching the Shinmiyangyo.  Mr. Duvernay has established contact with the surviving family of Lt. Hugh McKee, but is anxious to establish contact with surviving family of other participants in this action.  We encourage you to visit Mr. Duvernay's website at www.shinmiyangyo.org.

 

Copyright 1999-2014 by HomeOfHeroes.com
     2115 West 13th Street - Pueblo, CO 81003

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Unless otherwise noted, all materials by C. Douglas Sterner
 

Home Page

Hall Of Heroes

MOH Community 

NEWS

Kidz Page

FEATURE STORIES
  Profiles In Courage | Wings of ValorThe Brotherhood of Soldiers At War | Go For Broke
 Pearl Harbor  | A Splendid Little War | Shinmiyangyo-Korea 1871 | Quick Links to MOH Stories

RECIPIENT WEB SITES
Barney Barnum  |  Jack Lucas  |  Mitch Paige  |  Wesley Fox  |  Sammy Davis
Roger Donlon
Peter Lemon  |  Drew Dix  |  Mike Novosel

Medal Of Honor Calendar  |  Books By MOH RecipientsSteve Ryan MOH Posters

What Does 
A Hero Look Like?

Click on Superman To Find out


FOOTNOTES
In
HISTORY

NEW
Looking for a Hero or trying to verify awards? We have posted the names of more than 120,000 recipients of the highest awards in a BRAND NEW FREE SECTION
DECORATIONS 1862 - Present
.

Military Medals & Awards 

Information and Images of ALL Military Medals
The Purple Heart 
How to Request Records/Medals Earned
  How to Obtain Military Records of a Family Member 

Honor Roll of America's Military Heroes


Brevet Medal


DSC 


Navy Cross 


Air Force Cross 

Distinguished Service Medals

Defense - Army - Navy - Air Force - Coast Guard - Merchant Marine



Silver Star

U.S. History and Information
The History Room | U.S. Flag HistoryHistory of the Flag |
How to Display the Flag
| The National Anthem | The Pledge of Allegiance The American Creed | The Seal of our Nation | Our National Symbol
Arthur MacArthur's Flag | William Carney's Flag | FDR's Flag of Liberation]

FLAG DAY           STATE FLAGS
American Presidents
U.S. Presidents | Inaugural Addresses

God & Country
ROOM

MY HERO Web Page Creator 
(Create a Tribute to the Hero in Your Own Life)

SEARCH
bn_search.jpg (3967 bytes)
OUR SITE

EDUCATIONAL

GAME ARCADE

OR
Quick Quiz

***
Electronic Post Cards
Talking Points 

Remembering 911
The Binch
Citizens Speak Out

BEYOND THE MEDAL

This 5 Disc DVD Education Program has been distributed to over 17,500 Public & Private High Schools and is now available to the public!


 

HomeOfHeroes.com now has more than 25,000 pages of US History for you to view.