Around noon on June 10, 1871, sailors and marines from the United States’ forces landed near the first fort at the entrance to the Salee River (read about the events leading to this incident in our previous blog post). The location was well-chosen, but even during high tide the men had to wade through the mud flats. Regardless, the marines quickly captured the first fort and moved on to another. By late afternoon, the field guns were also ashore. During this action, the USS Palos was damaged after running aground and was taken out of the fight.
|After capturing the first fort on the first day of the battle. Note naval Lt. McKee in the white hat.|
An officer from the Colorado, he would be mortally wounded after leading the way into the citadel.
The next morning, the captured forts were destroyed and the attack continued. After capturing another small fort, the men prepared to assault the main citadel. The large shells from USS Monocacy had torn up the steep ground leading to the walls of the fort, which were also opened up in places by artillery fire. This would allow the men to climb the steep hill quickly. The leaders ordered the assault and 350 American sailors and marines surged forward. The Koreans were mostly armed with obsolete weapons like the matchlock, which could not be reloaded effectively by the time men breached the walls. The Koreans resorted to throwing rocks, and soon the American sailors and marines stormed into the fort, where the fighting dissolved into hand-to-hand combat. When it was all over, the Korean general was dead, as were many of his men, who had vowed to fight to the death. The Koreans lost about 250 dead, while the Americans lost only three. About 20 wounded Koreans were captured.
|Koreans onboard the Colorado. These are either prisoners|
after the battle, or a group of Christians who came onboard
before the battle when they thought the ship was bringing
The general’s immense yellow personal standard was captured by two marines who were later given the Medal of Honor for their role in the battle. One of them, Corporal Brown, was part of the USS Colorado’s marine detachment. This flag was recently loaned to South Korea by the U.S. Naval Academy.
Marines pose onboard the Colorado with the
Korean general's standard that was captured by
the Americans. Corporal Brown is in the
middle of the picture.
Although the American forces won a lopsided victory at Ganghwa Island, the overall result of the expedition was failure. The United States' goal had been to sign a trade treaty with the Korean government, but no negotiations took place. Instead, the incident reinforced isolationist attitudes of the Korean rulers and thus kept barriers in place regarding opening Korea to trade. It was not until 1882--eleven years after this expedition--that the United States and Korea signed a trade treaty.
(This blog post was written by HRNM Educator Elijah Palmer.)