Military Wiki
Korean Expedition
Ganghwa 3-edit.jpg
American forces after capturing the Deokjin Fort during the Battle of Ganghwa in 1871.
DateJune 1, 1871 – July 3, 1871
LocationGanghwa Island, Yellow Sea, Joseon
(now Ganghwa Island, Yellow Sea, South Korea)
Result American withdrawal; Joseon reaffirms its isolation policy
 United States Flag of the king of Joseon.svg Joseon Dynasty
Commanders and leaders
John Rodgers
Winfield Scott Schley
Flag of the king of Joseon.svg Eo Jae-yeon

A posed photograph of U.S. Navy officers holding a council of war aboard the Asiatic Squadron flagship, the steam frigate USS Colorado, off Korea in June 1871 prior to the Korean Expedition. The squadron's commander, Rear Admiral John Rodgers, leans over the table at right.

The United States expedition to Korea, the Shinmiyangyo, or simply the Korean Expedition, in 1871, was the first American military action in Korea. It took place predominantly on and around the Korean island of Ganghwa. The reason for the presence of the American naval force in Korea was to support an American diplomatic delegation sent to establish trade and political relations with the peninsular nation, to ascertain the fate of the merchant ship General Sherman, and to establish a treaty assuring aid for shipwrecked sailors. When Korean shore batteries attacked two American warships on June 1, 1871, a punitive expedition was launched ten days later after the commanding American admiral failed to receive an official apology from the Koreans. The isolationist nature of the Joseon Dynasty government and the assertiveness of the Americans led to a misunderstanding between the two parties that changed a diplomatic expedition into an armed conflict. On June 10, about 650 Americans landed and captured several forts, killing over 200 Korean troops with a loss of only three American dead. Korea continued to refuse to negotiate with the United States until 1882.

Initial contact

The expedition consisted of about 650 men, over 500 sailors and 100 marines, as well as five warships:[1] USS Colorado, USS Alaska, USS Palos, USS Monocacy, and USS Benicia. On board the Colorado was Rear Admiral John Rodgers, also Frederick F. Low, the United States Ambassador to China.[2][3] The Korean forces, known as "Tiger Hunters", were led by General Eo Jae-yeon (Hangul; 어재연 Hanja; 魚在淵).

The Americans safely made contact with the Korean inhabitants, described as "people wearing white clothes". When they inquired about the SS General Sherman incident, the Koreans were initially reluctant to discuss the topic, ostensibly to avoid having to pay any recompense. The Americans consequently let the Koreans know that their fleet would be exploring the area, and that they meant no harm. This gesture was misinterpreted; Korean policy at the time prohibited foreign ships from sailing on the Han River, as it led directly to the capital city of Hanyang, modern day Seoul. On June 1, the Korean fortress fired at the U.S. fleet as they sailed up the Ganghwa Straits, which leads to the river. The U.S. forces were not badly damaged, due "to the bad gunnery of the Koreans, whose fire, although very hot for the fifteen minutes in which they maintained it, was ill-directed, and consequently without effect." Along with the cannons being arranged in rows, one tier above another on the hill-side, and fired by a train of powder."[4] The U.S. demanded an apology within ten days; there was no response so Rodgers decided on a punitive assault on the forts.[3]

Battle of Ganghwa

On June 10, 1871, the Americans attacked the lightly defended Choji Garrison on Ganghwa, along the Salee River. The Koreans were armed with severely outdated weapons, such as matchlock muskets. After they were quickly overrun, the Americans moved onto their next objective, the Deokjin Garrison. The poorly armed Korean forces were kept from effective range by American 12 pound howitzers. The American troops continued on towards the next objective, Deokjin Fort, which they found abandoned. The sailors and marines quickly dismantled this fortress and continued to Gwangseong Garrison, a citadel. By this time, Korean forces had regrouped there. Along the way, some Korean units tried to flank the US forces, but were beaten off again due to the strategic placement of artillery on two hills.

A map of the Korean forts at Ganghwa, with their American names.

Artillery fire from ground forces and the USS Monocacy offshore pounded the citadel in preparation for an assault by US forces. A force of 546 sailors and 105 Marines grouped on the hills west of the fortress (infantry troops were on the hill directly west of the fortress, while artillery troops on another hill both shelled the fortress and also covered the Americans' flanks and rear) keeping cover and returning fire. Once the bombardments stopped, the Americans charged the citadel, led by Lt. Hugh McKee. The slow reload time of the Korean matchlocks aided the Americans, who were armed with superior Remington rolling block carbines, to make it over the walls; the Koreans even ended up throwing rocks at the attackers. McKee was the first to make it into the citadel, and was fatally wounded by a shot to the groin. After him came Commander Winfield Scott Schley. Schley shot the Korean soldier who killed McKee.[5] The flag of the Korean commander, General Eo Jae-yeon, called the "Sujagi" by Koreans, was captured by Corporal Charles Brown of the USS Colorado's guard and Private Hugh Purvis of the USS Alaska's guard.[6] General Eo was killed by Private James Dougherty.[7] While serving as the color bearer for the Colorado's crew and Marines, USS Colorado Carpenter Cyrus Hayden planted the US flag on the ramparts under heavy enemy fire. Corporal Brown, Privates Dougherty and Purvis, and Carpenter Hayden received the Medal of Honor.

The fighting lasted fifteen minutes. In the end, 243 Koreans were counted dead in the forts and three Americans were also killed in the fighting. The American casualties were McKee, Seaman Seth Allen, and U.S. Marine Corps Private Denis Hanrahan,[8] ten Americans were wounded, and twenty Koreans were captured, several of whom were wounded. Five Korean forts were taken in total, with dozens of various small cannon.[9][10] The Korean deputy commander was among the wounded who were captured.[11] The US hoped to use the captives as a bargaining chip to meet with local officials, but the Koreans refused, calling the captives cowards and "Low was told that he was welcome to keep the wounded prisoners".[12]

Following the military operations of June 10–12, the United States Asiatic Squadron stayed at anchorage off Jakyak Island until July 3 when they left for China.[13][14]


A Korean junk in 1871, taken by the Americans during the expedition.

The United States was not able to achieve its objectives diplomatically, as the Koreans refused to negotiate. In fact, these events led the regent Daewon-gun to strengthen his policy of isolation and issue a national proclamation against appeasing foreigners.[15] However, in 1876, Korea established a trade treaty with Japan after Japanese ships approached Ganghwado and threatened to fire on Seoul. Treaties with European countries and the U.S. soon followed.

Nine sailors and six Marines were awarded the Medal of Honor, the first for actions in a foreign conflict.

Treaty of Amity and Commerce

From April to May 1882, the United States and Korea negotiated and approved a 14-article treaty.[16] The treaty established mutual friendship and mutual assistance in case of attack;[17] and also addressed such specific matters as extraterritorial rights for American citizens in Korea[18] and most favored nation trade status.[19]

The treaty remained in effect until the annexation of Korea in 1910.

See also


  1. The number of ships is confirmed by Lee (1984), p. 264.
  2. Lee (1984), loc. cit.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Colorado Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships
  4. Report of Rear-Admiral John Rodgers to the Secretary of the Navy, June 3, 1871
  5. Lexington Morning Herald November 28, 1897
  6. Report of Captain McLane Tilton to the Secretary of the Navy, Korea, June 16, 1871
  7. Report of Commander L.A. Kimberly (USN) to the Secretary of the Navy, Korea, July 5, 1871
  8. Dispatch from Commodore John Rodgers to the Secretary of the Navy, Corea, June 23, 1871
  9. Nahm (1996), p. 149.
  10. Rear-Admiral John Rodgers, General Order No. 32, June 12, 1871
  11. "The Korean War", New York Times, Vol. 20, No. 6215, August 22, 1871
  13. Report of Rear-Admiral John Rodgers to the Secretary of the Navy, July 5, 1871
  14. Deck logs for the USS Colorado, USS Alaska, USS Benecia, USS Monocacy, and USS Palos from June 10, 1871 to July 3, 1871
  15. Nahm (1986), p. 149-150; Lee (1984), p. 266.
  16. Yŏng-ho Ch'oe et al. (2000). Sources of Korean Tradition, p. 235, p. 235, at Google Books; excerpt, "Korea signed a similar accord with the United States (the Treaty of Chelump'o, 1882) that was followed by similar agreements with other Western nations;" Korean Mission to the Conference on the Limitation of Armament, Washington, D.C., 1921-1922. (1922). Korea's Appeal to the Conference on Limitation of Armament, p. 29., p. 29, at Google Books; excerpt, "Treaty and Diplomatic Relations Between the United States and Korea. Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation dated May 22, 1882."
  17. Korean MissionKorea's Appeal to the Conference on Limitation of Armament, p. 29., p. 29, at Google Books; excerpt, "... Article 1."
  18. Korean Mission p. 29., p. 29, at Google Books; excerpt, "... Article 4."
  19. Korean Mission p. 29., p. 29, at Google Books; excerpt, ""... Article 14."


  • Lee, Ki-baek, tr. by E.W. Wagner & E.J. Shultz (1984). A new history of Korea (rev. ed.). Seoul: Ilchogak. ISBN 89-337-0204-0. 
  • Nahm, Andrew C. (1996). Korea: A history of the Korean people (2nd ed.). Seoul: Hollym. ISBN 1-56591-070-2. 
  • Gordon H. Chang, "Whose "Barbarism"? Whose "Treachery"? Race and Civilization in the Unknown United States-Korea War of 1871," Journal of American History, Vol. 89, No. 4 (Mar., 2003), pp. 1331–1365 in JSTOR
  • Yŏng-ho Ch'oe; William Theodore De Bary; Martina Deuchler and Peter Hacksoo Lee. (2000). Sources of Korean Tradition: From the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Centuries. New York: Columbia University Press. 10-ISBN 0-231-12030-3/13-ISBN 978-0-231-12030-2; 10-ISBN 0-231-12031-1/13-ISBN 978-0-231-12031-9; OCLC 248562016

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