Sunday, April 19, 2015

1871 Shinmiyangyo Invasion of Ganghwa Island

Thomas Duvernay, PhD in Korean studies and passionate in his research on the 1871 Shinmiyangyo invasion of Ganghwa Island. Shinmiyangyo is the term coined by the Koreans based on the "Shinmi" year from the Chinese calendar, and "yang" meaning western or western disturbance, and so, the Shinmiyangyo in essence means "the western disturbance in the Shinmi year". The tour was hosted by the RAS with the following information regarding what the tour would include:
In the spring of 1871, five US warships entered Korean waters with the stated goal of securing a treaty for the safety of shipwrecked mariners. At the time, Korea still had very negative feelings from several bad interactions with Westerners in the five preceding years. Through cultural misunderstandings and the mishandling of the situation between the Korean and US governments, hostilities broke out. In the end, Korean forces reportedly lost more than three hundred troops, while the US lost only three. It was a so-called "weekend war" that changed the course of relations between the two countries, and continues to be a historic point of contention with many people on both sides. 
The tour begins at the Choji fort where the US landing party first arrived on Korean shores. Although the first shot took place on June 1, 1871 up the straits from Choji, and the first shot of the June 10-12 battles took place on a small island just south of the fort, this place is where the main action started on the morning of June 10, 1871. The tour includes the fort and commentary on military battles and strategies employed in the surrounding areas, including the landing area that used to be mud flats, where men while wearing heavy packs and carrying weighty artillery dragged the 300-plus-pound cannons through the mud. The mud flats have since been reclaimed for farming, along with the area that was the overnight tenting spot for the US forces. [Since the tour was in an unplanned soaking and continuous rain, it was easier for us to imagine to some extent the soggy ground and miserable conditions experienced by the soldiers.]

After advancing up the road, we will pass the hill where Marines posted a picket overnight on June 10 and joined up with sailors as they marched along towards their next objective, the Deokjin fort. While no fighting took place at that fort—Korean troops had left suddenly before US troops arrived—it was the site where Marines took a famous photograph on top of the fort's walls, which are still there. It was from this point that the arduous "line of march" across a stretch of hills, in the hot June sun, was taken up by the US troops on their way to the stronghold of Korean forces, the Sondolmok fort, which is attached to the main fortress of Gwangseongbo. 
From there, we will head to the small village of "Bonggolmaeul", which is in a valley surrounded by parallel hills that US and Korean forces traversed in opposition to each other. It is where much of the fighting took place between Korean and US forces, but is almost unknown as such to most people, historian and villager alike. From there we will hike around the hills where US artillery were positioned while troops pushed on towards their objective, along the opposite hills where Korean forces struggled to gain an advantage over their foes. 
At this point, the tour will conclude its own "line of march" at the same place US and Korean forces did: Gwangseongbo/Sondolmok fort. This is where the fighting drew to its conclusion with Koreans making a last stand in the small, 30 meter diameter fort. It is where, against overwhelming firepower, General Eo Jae-yeon and at least a couple hundred of his troops met their end without surrender. Not only will we tour around the reconstructed forts, but also the hills south and west of the Sondolmok fort where the main attack happened nearly one and a half centuries ago. Our tour culminates a few kilometers away at the Ganghwa Historical Museum, which houses the general's flag that was finally returned to Korea on long-term loan by the US Naval Academy Museum.

Korean General Eo Uh Je-yeon's captured battle flag, called Sujagi, taken on board the USS Colorado 
and then transported to the United States as a spoil of war. 
The Chinese character "su" meaning "martial" is very appropriate for a war flag.
The decimation of General Eo Jae-yeon and his forces.  
Thomas Duvernay, PhD (Korean studies), is an associate professor in the College of Basic Studies at Yeungnam University in Gyeongsan, Gyeongsangbukdo, where he teaches Korean history and English. His main historical focus is on the late Joseon dynasty, with his main interest being the 1871 Shinmiyangyo. He campaigned for years for the return of the flag of the Korean general, Eo Jae-yeon, and, in cooperation with the Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea, was successful with it coming back on long-term loan in 2007. His other interest is Korean traditional archery, which he has practiced since 1993. His wife, Moon-ok Lee, is an English teacher in a Korean high school, and his son, Nick, is an assistant professor at the Catholic University of Korea in Bucheon.

Background insights at the beginning of the tour:

In 1866 the General Sherman, an American ship, tried to sail up the Yamha (?) River and it ran aground. Though it was an American ship, it was leased by a British company, sailed from China and had a very mixed crew of about 24 aboard. Only three of the 24 were Americans: the captain, a missionary and one other. In any regard, when the General Sherman ran aground, aggression on what appears to be both sides took place and in the end the well-armed trading vessel was set afire, and ultimately all those on board killed. The vessel had entered the Korean waters, well-known to be under an isolationism policy, with intents of establishing trade and diplomatic relations with Americans based in China. 

This was a fail, not only because of methods for carrying out establishing trade but also in the same year, just prior in fact to the General Sherman's entrance, a French ship had also gone to Ganghwa and had been asking about the Catholic burnings of previous years. The French had left without information and in anger had burned the national archives, which resulted in revenge and retaliation tactics of the Koreans whereupon five more Catholics were killed.

However, when the Americans came into Korean waters in the 1871 expedition, it was not to question the destroying of the General Sherman or killing of the crew members. Establishing trade relations was the reason as the American hold in the Far East was getting a bit tenuous at the time so the Americans were seeking opportunities to get a stronger trade base. The 1871 expedition ended up in an attack on the island, and only later was the 1866 burning of the General Sherman tacked on to the reasons for attacking the Korean isolationists. By tacking on the "unjust" burning of the General Sherman, the American government could better justify to the American people its reason for a military attack.

The initial reason for the Americans to enter the Korean waters was to survey the Yamha (?) River. After arriving, the Americans negotiated with the Koreans, but the Koreans didn't give an answer to the Americans, which means in the non-confrontational Korean society that they didn't agree, but their silence was taken by the Americans as agreement since they didn't dispute what was proposed. With this misunderstanding, the five American ships preceded up the river to do survey work. One small boat was attacked and there was surprise, so they sent out a "message". "Messages" were posted on a stick on the beach (in Chinese) and then picked up by the Koreans, taken to officials who would compose their reply and post in the same way.

The Americans asked why they had been attacked and demanded a formal apology within 10 days. 10 days came and went. On the last day, however, a raft was sent floating down the river loaded with cows, chickens and thousands of eggs along with a note that said, "You will be hungry on your way home." So basically they were saying, "Please leave!" The Americans did not feel this was an apology, so they decided to attack on June 10.

On a deeper political level, the Americans couldn't back down from this "lack of apology" because the foreigner situation in China was very shaky at the time, and because word traveled swiftly between China and Korea so the Americans had to show strength, more to protect the foreigners and foreign communities in China rather than make headway in survey or trade in Korea. Therefore, they felt it necessary to attack.

Facts about the Shinmiyangyo battle:

Where: Anchorage was at Jakyak Island in between Yeongjong Island and Incheon. Fighting took place from Hwangsan Island up to Gwangseongbo on Ganghwa Island, and also Deokpojin on the mainland.

When: The United States Asiatic Squadron entered Korean waters on May 23, 1871, and departed on July 3, 1871. The first shots were exchanged on June 1, 1871, with the final fighting taking place from June 10-12.

Who: US forces: Five ships of the United States Asiatic Squadron (Colorado, Alaska, Benicia, Monocacy, and Palos) with a total of over 1,200 sailors and marines. Of those, the total number taking part in the landing was 759 men. The crews of the steam launches and boat keepers was 118 men, with the actual landed fighting forces being 651 men (546 sailors, 105 marines). Of those, three were killed in action and ten were wounded. Korean forces: The number is not exactly known, but estimations were over 600 men (although official US accounts were in the thousands). The estimated loss for Koreans was about 350 men (243 dead were counted within the fortress area), and 20 taken prisoner.

Why: In short, Korea was a missing puzzle piece. China and Japan both had relations with the West, while Korea did not. Many overtures were made by Western countries, but all were rebuffed. Because of a very big cultural misunderstanding between the US and Korea, shots were exchanged on June 1, 1871, and the stage was set for the main fighting a few days later.

The group who avidly "drank up" the words of Professor Duverney while being baptized continually with spring rains.
Tour members with Professor Thomas Duvernay in front of the returned Sujaki, the flag that was captured in 1871 and taken to the US, where it sadly was just rolled up and labeled with a little card in a US museum, very not appreciated. This flag represents a national treasure of Korea and Professor Duvernay campaigned for years to have the flag repatriated to its home country. The flag was finally returned on l0-year ong-term loan to Korea in 2007 and is housed in the specially built Ganghwa War Museum to showcase it as a representative feature for the history of Ganghwa Island. The flag is 4.5 meters x 4.5 meters, and unlike western flags that are hung by a lateral end, Korean flags were hung like giant pendants from large horizontal beams of wood.

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