Many call the 1950 war with North Korea, and the Chinese, the forgotten war, in spite of the huge Number of dead
and wounded. But it was really the SECOND forgotten Korean war. The first took place in June of 1871, and lasted
approximately 12 days.
In the winter of 1870, President Grant initiated efforts to engage in diplomatic relations with Korea. This was largely
a pretense, as the real aim of the Americans was to "open" Korea as Perry had done with Japan in 1853, but it was
a pretense based on real concerns, as an American ship, the General Sherman had shipwrecked on Korean shores
back in 1866 and had had its crew mutilated and killed (although, to be fair to the Koreans, the ship was mostly
crewed by Malay and Chinese pirates and was probably involved in enterprises of a dubious character).
On May 30, the American fleet anchored off Chagyak near the mouth of the Yomha River. This was a very
provocative position, because the Yomha lead to the Han river, which in turn led directly into the heart of the capital
at Seoul. The expedition was commanded by Rear Admiral John Rodgers, who was a decorated veteran, and the
commander of the entire US Asiatic Fleet. The force consisted of five ships - three large sailing vessels, and two
side-wheel steam-powered gunboats Frederick Low, the minister to China, informed the Koreans that the
Americans would send ships up the river the next day on a surveying mission, whereupon the Koreans departed
without comment. Low took this silence to be a tacit approval of the surveying, or at least not disapproval.
Less than a day later, on the morning of June 1, the two gunboats and four small launches headed up the Yomha as
promised. Two hours into the journey, the ships rounded a sharp bend in the river, the Korean fort that commanded
the bend suddenly and unprovokedly opened fire with its cannons on the American ships. The Americans
immediately returned fire, and inflicted significant damage on the fort. Two Americans suffered minor gunshot
wounds, while 30 Koreans in the fort were killed by American fire
Less than three days later, after an exchange of messages that changed nothing, and the tides shifted in their favor,
the Americans dispatched a punitive force of the two large gunboats and 20 smaller launches, laden with 950 armed
men, including 105 marines, most of whom were experienced combat veterans of the Civil War, armed with the latest
weapons, while the Koreans were armed only with ancient ,Matchlocks, bows, and spears. With the gunboats
bombarding the Koreans from the river, the American ground troops advanced up the bank, capturing and torching
five forts and burning several villages. By both American and Korean accounts, the Korean soldiers fought bravely
and fiercely, but they were severely outmatched.
After three days of fighting, the Americans reached the fort that had bombarded their vessels on June 1, which they
dubbed "The Citadel." After bombarding the fort for some hours, they captured it with a full frontal assault, in which
three American's were killed - the only three to die during the whole expedition, while 350 Korean soldiers died.
Having avenged the bombardment to their satisfaction, the Americans returned to their anchorage and sat around
waiting for the Korean response. They waited in vain. Although there was scattered communications, it was more of
the same, with the Koreans asserting their right to defend their country and the Americans insisting on apologies
and the initiation of high-level talks. Low and Rodgers never once heard anything at all from the king or any
high-level member of the court, speaking only with regional officials. Finally, on July 3, they got sick of waiting
around and sailed for home.
In this sense, even though the Americans had triumphed militarily, they had utterly failed to achieve their objectives,
leaving without even securing the shipwreck treaty that was their stated aim. If anything, it was the Koreans who
could claim victory, having fought a western enemy and succeeding in driving them off, and indeed the Korean court
immediately set about touting its "great victory" with monuments and shrines to the dead. Korean history textbooks
still say things like "Our valiant soldiers drove the western invaders away."
Although the incident has almost entirely faded from the American memory today, probably due to being
overshadowed by the much more extensive Second Korean war of 1950, eminent American scholars of the time
widely considered the first Korean War to be the most significant American foreign military action of any kind in the
more than half-century between the Mexican war in 1846, and the Spanish American War in 1898.
Lieutenant Hugh Mckee, killed in action, was not awarded Medal Of Honor, as Officers were not included at this
time. However, two others killed, as well as thirteen others who survived, were awarded the Medal of Honor as a
result of this engagement.
THANKS TO ASA KOREA MEMBER CHUCK KELLY FOR THIS INTERESTING STORY......
Interestingly, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, in his efforts to build his personality cult, claimed that his
grandfather led the attack on the General Sherman.
Lt. Hugh Mckee