Pacific News Minute: Discovery of 19th Century Korean Battle Flags at U.S. Naval Academy

Dec 21, 2017

U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland
Credit Wikimedia Commons

Last week, long forgotten trophies of a 19th century skirmish between the United States and Korea were discovered at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis. USNI News reported that workers uncovered battle flags captured by U.S. Marines in 1871. In today’s Pacific News Minute, Neal Conan explains why both sides saw it as a victory.

Twelve years after Commodore Mathew Perry forced Japan to open up to international trade, an American merchant ship called the General Sherman sailed to Pyongyang to demand that Korea follow suit.

After the Koreans declined to negotiate, the General Sherman continued up river anyway and ran aground. As angry crowds gathered, the ship opened cannon fire. Unable to get afloat, the General Sherman was burned after a four day siege.

An improbable North Korean version of the story places a heroic ancestor of the current Kim dynasty in charge of the final attack against Yankee invaders. In fact, just the captain and one other officer were American; most of the crew was Chinese.

All of them were killed.

For many years, North Korea displayed the U.S.S. Pueblo, the American intelligence ship it captured in 1968, near the site of the General Sherman incident.

In 1871, Rear Admiral John Rodgers led five ships of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet to Seoul. Again, the Koreans refused trade negotiations and again, fighting erupted. A landing force of more than a hundred Marines captured two Korean Forts.

The Americans withdrew with those battle flags as trophies, the Koreans celebrated the repulse of an enemy. Five years later, Korea finally did open up to trade. Forced to do so by the Japanese, who had learned their lesson from Commodore Perry.