NationStates Jolt Archive

Prelude & Resolution of the First Korean War

24-09-2005, 19:27
1. Was the U.S.S. General Sherman incident warranted?

The following is an eyewitness account recorded in 1892. Although it is in variance on some minor details with what little official records (Kojong Silrok - see below) exist, it is the most complete account of the incident available.

Kojong Silrok is evasive on the burning of the ship. This was probably due to the American demand for compensation for the ship and her crew. The Yi government claimed that the ship was burned by a civilian mob and that the government played no role.


In the 7th moon of Year Pyeng-in (1866), a black foreign schooner was sighted on the Tae-tong River. The ship dropped anchor at Keupsa Gate at the border of Pyung-an and Whang-hae provinces.

Governor Park Kyoo Soo of Pyung-an sent an emissary to investigate the ship's presence. The emissary was told that the foreigners came to exchange goods with the Koreans. They came from the land of Mi-guk (the United States). There were nineteen persons on the ship, including several Oriental of abort stature and dark complexion. These understood Hanja characters and so served as interpreters for the Americans.

NB: An American merchant W. B. Preston arranged with the Meadows & Co., a British firm in Tientsin, to send the General Sherman (formerly the US navy gunship Princess Royal) to Korea. The crew members were: Captain Page, Chief Mate Wilson and the owner Preston (all Americans); George Hogarth (a British); thirteen Chinese and three Malays. A missionary, Robert Thomas, who had learned some Korean words from the Korean Catholics at Chefoo, accompanied them as the interpreter.

The ship's cargo consisted mainly of cotton goods, tin sheets, glass, and other items. The schooner left Tientsin on July 29 and stopped briefly for water at Chefoo, from where she set sail on August 9 and reached the mouth of the Taedong River on August 18. She was heavily armed.

The emissary informed them that Korea did not trade with foreigners and that only the King could change this law; and that the governor had no authority to deal with the foreigners. He then offered to provide them with some provisions. They asked for flour and eggs.

While the emissary left the ship to report to the governor, the foreigners weighed anchor and sailed up the river as far inland as Mangyung-dae, a hill some twelve li from Pyongyang. The Crow Rapids stopped them from going any further.

During the night rain poured down on the mountains and the Tae-dong river rose rapidly. The day was the 15th of the lunar month and there were also high tides. These two factors combined swelled the water to a level seldom seen before. Thus the black ship was able to pass over the Crow Rapids and sailed further inland.

The foreigners apparently thought that the high water level was normal and kept on sailing until they reached Yang-jak-do (island). Gov. Park sent Lee Hyon-ik, the deputy commander of the Pyongyang garrison, to the ship with four eggs and 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 let him decide what to do with you people."

This was the second year of the King's reign and Dae Won Kun was the Regent of Korea. Dae believed that this foreign ship was a vanguard of another invasion of the Roman Catholic Church and commanded that:

"Tell them to leave at once. If they do not obey, kill them."

The day before Dae's edict arrived, the river's water level dropped and the ship was hopelessly stranded. The governor ordered his troops to attack the foreigners. We had wha-jun (fire arrows) which could travel 800 feet and then explode. Our troops were dressed in dragon cloud armour and marched past a cheering crowd. We had several cannons rolled out to fight the invaders.

The Americans saw our troops coming and took hostage of Deputy Commander Lee, who was onboard the ship for a visit. Gov. Park told his troops to attack the ship notwithstanding Lee's safety.

The fighting continued for four days amidst a huge crowd of spectators. The foreigners fired large canon balls that traveled more than 10 li. The cannons' thunders could be heard as far away as one day's walk. They aimed at the spectators and showers of deadly steel fragments rained down on them. Our troops retreated to a safe distance, from where their guns and bows could do little harm to the foreigners.

We then tried a Turtle boat*, a boat covered with metal sheets and cow hides. The bow of this boat had a covered port for the cannon hidden inside. The Turtle boat approached the ship and fired many shots, but the shots bounced off the thick skin of the ship. The fight was not going too well for us.

Then drill sergeant Park Choong-wun tied three boats together by the East Gate and loaded them up with firewood. He then poured sulfur and salt peter in the wood. Two long ropes were attached to both sides of the boats and the firewood were lit.

But the fire went out before the boats reached the ship. A second set of fire-boats was pushed away by the Americans. But the third set reached the enemy ship and success at last. The enemy ship caught on fire and began to burn. The crew faced suffocation by the stench and vapor of the burning sulfur and saltpeter. They tried in vain to put out the flames and as the smoke grew thicker and thicker they were forced one by one to jump into the water.

Our troops in boats surrounded the enemy ship and captured the enemy as they tried to escape. Drill-sergeant Park boarded the ship and rescued Lee. Some of the invaders waved white flags. Most of them were hacked to pieces before they reached the shore. Others were dragged ashore alive. These tried friendly smiles and soft words to win the goodwill of our people - in vain.

NB: The first Protestant missionary to come to Korea was Robert Thomas. He was one of those who made it to the shore. He knelt down to say his last prayer and gave his bible to his executioner before he was killed.

The remains of the foreigners were trampled on and dragged around. Their body parts were cut off for medical use and what was left was burned.
The enemy ship was totally burned down and there remained only her iron ribs that looked like posts driven into the ground. These irons were melted down and used in various ways. We captured two or three cannons, which are displayed in the armory of Pyongyang. We also recovered her anchor chains, which hang from the East Gate Tower.

There was a big celebration over this victory of ours. Gov. Park provided food and wine. There was much joy and sadness over our losses. Gov. Park sent a special messenger to the King with the news:

"Drill sergeant Park rescued my deputy commander Lee from the burning enemy ship. He boarded the ship, took Lee under his arm and leaped with him a hundred yards across the Taedong river to safety."

When Dae Won Kun read this note, he laughed his heart out and made Park Chongwun his aide-de-camp in Ahn-ju. Park still lives in Kang-dong, Pyung-an Province. We lost one soldier and 13 civilians.
* - Ironically, a geobukseon, the world's first ironclad warship


Wikipedia Article (
24-09-2005, 20:18
24-09-2005, 20:42
More to the point:

How many here even know of the first U.S.-Korean war?
24-09-2005, 22:29
2. Similarly, do you consider the aims underlying U.S. initiation of the Shinmiyangyo - 신미양요 - morally justified?