Monday, November 9, 2015

Unexpected Enemies in the Civil War: The Japanese (Part Two)

By Elijah Palmer
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator

Shortly after USS Wyoming's attack on Shimonoseki, the French also launched a punitive strike with two ships and some marines against the anti-foreign Choshu clan holding the straits. However, this was only a minor setback for the rebel Japanese and the important trading passage remained closed to foreign ships. For the time being, negotiations replaced military action in trying to resolve the issue.
USS Jamestown (from Official Records)
The situation in Japan remained uncertain for many months in late 1863 and early 1864. The Choshu and other anti-foreign factions were opposing the Japanese government in many places. The situation was dangerous for non-Japanese, as they were attacked in many instances (the American minister to Japan had to be protected by troops). Various foreign governments attempted to negotiate with the Prince of Nagato (Choshu), but met with little success. By May 1864, the American minister to Japan requested Captain Cicero Price to bring the Gosport-built USS Jamestown to Yokohama as soon as possible "in view of the probability of a combined movement against the Prince of Nagato."* It seemed at this point that the Europeans and Americans were getting tired of fruitless negotiations as the Shimonoseki Straits remained closed. In July, Price reported that war was being threatened, as the British and Dutch were massing ships and troops. The next month, an American steamer was attacked near the Choshu lands, which did not surprise Price: "[He] is the most rebellious of the daimios, and it is he whom the combined treaty powers propose to attack."
The international fleet at Yokohama in 1864. Photograph by famed photographer Felice Beato, who would accompany the U.S. Navy's expedition to Korea in 1871 (from
Deeming that the straits could "only be opened by force," the treaty powers planned their attack. The British had nine ships, the Dutch had four and the French had three, but Jamestown was the only available American ship. However, the strong currents at Shimonoseki meant that the sailing sloop, lacking steam engines, would be nearly worthless in fleet maneuvers in those tight quarters. Yet the other foreign governments "wished...that the American flag should appear in the strait on the occasion of the show that we were in accord with the movement."

After thinking over the situation, Price and the American minister chartered a merchant vessel, the Ta-Kiang for the purpose of "carry[ing] a landing party, and in any and every way to assist in the common object," all while staying out of range of the enemy cannons (the owners of the Ta-Kiang had to protect their investment). Price sent a crew of 18 under the command of Lieutenant Fredrick Pearson, along with a 30-pound Parrott rifle, to the merchant ship. Pearson was ordered to defer to the British admiral in charge of the expedition and to do whatever was necessary in supporting the attack, with the caveat that Ta-Kiang was "not a man-of war, or prepared to attack the forts."
A 30-pound Parrott Rifle on a naval carriage (from Cincinnati Museum Center)
On September 4, 1864, the international fleet arrived at the entrance to the Shimonoseki Straits. The next afternoon, the fleet moved closer to the Japanese shore batteries and both sides opened fire. The battle lasted for over an hour, until the batteries were silenced. A British night landing took care of some of the guns as well. The battle was resumed early on the morning of September 6, with more cannon fire. At 8:30 a.m., Ta-Kiang towed two boats close to shore as part of a general landing. Pearson later reported that the crew fired eighteen shells from the Parrott rifle, so it is likely that these shots were fired in support of the landing. British, French and Dutch troops captured the Japanese batteries by noon, although they were contested throughout the day. Some of the wounded European troops were transported aboard Ta-Kiang as well.  
A Japanese depiction of the battle
European troops with a captured Japanese battery
The "gunboat diplomacy" of the treaty powers worked, as the rebellious Prince of Nagato agreed to open the straits to "all ships of all countries." In addition, he was forced to promise that the destroyed batteries would not be rebuilt. To ensure compliance of this new agreement, the Europeans left three warships to patrol the area. While not playing a terribly major role in this engagement, the American sailors "[performed their] part to the satisfaction of all concerned." They were able to contribute to the mission, and more importantly "show the flag," which the Navy has often done across the globe. 

*All quotations taken from The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies, Series 1, Vol. 3.

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