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Conclusion


Mr. James Wardrop (great-great nephew of Lt. Hugh McKee shakes hands with Mr. Uh Yoon-won (grandson of General Uh Je-yeon, Korean commander in 1871).  The occasion was at a May 27, 2000 memorial ceremony for General Uh at Kanghwa.
(Photo Courtesy of Thomas Durveney)

 

 

 


Ill-conceived foreign policy by United States leaders and politicians can never diminish the valor of the soldiers who must enforce that policy. Politically the Corean expedition of 1871 was a total defeat for the United States, despite the striking victory by US Navy bluejackets and Marines at the Citadel. For the Coreans, the valiant stand and fight to the death of General Uh Je-yeon became a historical even viewed much like Americans remember the defeat at the Alamo. The Corean defenders were lost, almost to a man, including the General himself. In one of his letters to Nannie, Captain Tilton spoke of sending her "the plume & tassel of peacock feathers & red & yellow hors hair, which was taken from the cap of the General (Uh Je-yon)" as a souvenir, along with a yellow piece of cloth from the captured Corean flag.

Perhaps the most fortunate of the Coreans were the 20 or so severely wounded that were taken aboard the American ships for medical treatment. In the weeks after the invasion of Kanghwa and prior to departing the Corean waters, Admiral Rogers made repeated efforts to establish a line of communication with Seoul to obtain the desired treaty. At one point he tried to use these prisoners as a bargaining tool, offering to release his recovering prisoners in exchange for a treaty. The Coreans informed the Admiral that his prisoners had dishonored themselves by allowing their capture, and should they be released they would be unwelcome home and would be subject to severe punishment.

Captain Tilton noted: "Our mission to Corea has been a perfect failure; they won't have anything to do with us, not even the fisherman. The local authorities refuse to send our letters to the King, and all are returned to us on the end of a pole stuck up on the beach, where we send a boat for them."

In all, more than 350 Coreans were killed in the failed expedition. Losses for the Americans were three killed in action, a fourth dead of disease, and ten or more wounded. Lieutenant Hugh McKee's body was placed in a flag-draped coffin for transport to his hometown of Lexington, Kentucky for burial. The other three dead Americans: Landsman Seth Allen (USN), Private Denis Hanrahan (USMC), and Thomas Driver (USN) were buried on Boisee Island (now called Jakyak Island by the Koreans) just off the coast near Inchon.

The large yellow flag of General Uh Je-yeon was sent to the United States as a "trophy of war", and placed in a museum at the United States Naval Academy, where both Lieutenant McKee and Captain Tilton had trained to become Naval officers.

 

On February 8, 1872, Marine Private Hugh Purvis and Corporal Charles Brown (pictured standing in that order in front of the flag at above with Captain Tilton on the right) were awarded Medals of Honor for capturing that flag. For his role as color bearer and for his valor in planting the Stars and Strips on the wall of the Citadel and then defending it, Navy Ship's Carpenter Cyrus Hayden was also awarded the Medal of Honor.


Charles Brown


Cyrus Hayden


Hugh Purvis

In all, fifteen Medals of Honor were awarded for the weekend war in Corea, (9 Navy and 6 Marines).  Eleven of them were presented on that same day of February 8, 1872, including:

  • Alexander McKenzie, Samuel Rogers and William Troy:  Cited for their valor at the side of Lieutenant McKee.  All three Navy bluejackets were wounded in that action.

  • Quartermaster Frederick Franklin (USN):  Cited for assuming command of Company D after Lieutenant McKee was wounded and leading them through the remainder of the battle at the Citadel.

  • Marine Private John Coleman:  Cited for saving the life of Alexander McKenzie.

  • Marine Private Michael McNamara:  Cited for his one-on-one battle with a Corean soldier that had attempted to stop his advance with a rifle.

  • Marine Privates James Dougherty and  Michael Owens:  Both cited for their valor in battle despite being wounded.

Six months later on July 9, 1872 Ordinary Seaman John Andrews (USN)' who had so valiantly stayed his post lashed to the ridgerope of the steam launch from the Benicia to safely navigate the Salee River when the amphibious landing began, received his own Medal of Honor.


Navy Landsman William Lukes was hospitalized with 18 sword and spear wounds and lay unconscious for 39 days in the sick-ay of the USS Colorado. He then spent many more months recovering from wounds so severe that they left him an invalid for life. On October 10, 1872, he had recovered enough to be presented the Medal of Honor. Joining him was Landsman James Merton (USN) who had also been severely wounded in the attack on the Citadel.

 

More than 40 years later on December 4, 1915, a belated Medal of Honor was presented to Navy Chief Quartermaster Patrick Henry Grace for his own gallant and meritorious conduct throughout the attack. As a Naval OFFICER Lieutenant Hugh McKee was ineligible for award of the Medal of Honor. (Until the revisions of 1917 the Navy medal was presented only to enlisted sailors or marines. Officers were generally rewarded for valorous actions with brevet promotions.)

Corea's efforts to isolate itself from the rest of the world, temporarily preserved by the failed Shinmiyangyo, were all too brief. Five years later Japan forced Corea to open diplomatic ties in the Treaty of Kangwha. Subsequently they took over the foreign and military affairs of Korea through the Protectorate Treaty of 1905.

Five years after that Japan formally annexed Korea, burning in front of the Korean court the treaty with the United States that had finally been achieved through diplomatic negotiations in 1882.


Private Hugh Purvis, who had earned the Medal of Honor for his capture of General Uh's flag, served in the Marine Corps until retiring in 1884. Thereafter he served 35 years as Armorer for the U.S. Naval Academy. He was buried there upon his death in 1922.

On December 17, 1944, in the latter days of World War II, Hugh Purvis' widow christened the U.S. Naval Destroyer DD 709 the USS Hugh Purvis. In 1993 his grandson donated the Medal of Honor inscribed with the name "Hugh Purvis" to the Naval Academy for display in a special area of a museum dedicated to the Korean Expedition of 1871.


USS Hugh Purvis


Dukjin Fortress (Fort Monocacy) Today

Today Kanghwa Island is a beautiful gem at the edge of the Yellow Sea. Separated by a narrow strip of water from the 38th Parallel and Communist North Korea, Kanghwa (sometimes called Ganghwa) is a popular tourist attraction. Steeped in history, many of the old forts and temples that adorned the island in years past have been carefully restored to preserve the proud history of a people who only wanted to be left alone, but were unable to avoid the technological advances of other nations that made our world so much smaller.

Perhaps it was Admiral Rogers himself who summed up the events of the weekend war in Corea in 1871 best when he concluded his official report with the following:

"It gives me the greatest satisfaction to say that in this expedition our officers and men encountered difficulties which were surmounted only by the most arduous labor, and defeated a determined enemy in a desperate fight with a patience and courage most admirable.  A victory was won of which the Navy may well feel proud.  It now remains with the Government to determine what further steps, if any, shall be taken toward requiring from Corea those engagements which it was our purpose in visiting the coast to obtain if we might."

 

SPECIAL ACKNOWLEDGEMENT:
The detail and accuracy of this story would not have been possible without the help of Mr. Tom Duvernay, who has spent years researching the Shinmiyangyo.  We thank him for his assistance throughout the project.

Originally from Petoskey, MI, since 1989 Mr. Duvernay has been a Professor in the Department of English, Dong Guk University, Kyongju, South Korea.

Mr. Duvernay became interested in the 1871 US-Korea conflict several years ago while researching military use of archery in Korea.  His focus shifted from military archery to Late Chosun Dynasty (19th Century) military research.

In this pursuit, Mr. Duvernay established contact with the Korea Military Academy, and became close friends with several faculty members in its history department (including the director of the KMA museum).  With their assistance, he has conducted several research surveys of Kanghwa Island and surrounding areas, including mapping the route U.S. forces took overland on Kanghwa Island in 1871.  His Korean contacts, including support from the Kanghwa County Office, has afforded him unprecedented access to sites and people throughout the area.

Mr. Duvernay operates a well done website on the Western disturbance in 1871 at www.shinmiyangyo.org and is presently working on a book that will share insights from that event in Korean history.  In addition he is actively pursuing two additional goals:

Mr. Duvernay has gone to great lengths to locate surviving family members of those Americans involved in the 1871 incident.  His efforts have enabled him to locate Mr. James Wardrop, the great-great nephew of Lieutenant Hugh McKee.  If you have information that can help him locate additional surviving family members, please e-mail him at:  shinmiyangyo@hotmail.com.

 

 

Bibliography & Recommended Readings

Above and Beyond.  Boston Publishing Company.  Boston, MA, 1985
Beyers, W.F. & Keydel, O.F. Acts of Bravery. Platinum Press, Woodbury, NY, 1907
The Corean War
.
"Harper's Weekly, September 9, 1871
The Death of Hugh M'Kee.
"Lexington Morning Herald". November 18, 1900 (Letter from Captain McIlvaine to his mother written June 22, 1871)
Hugh McKee, He Gained Immortal Fame.
"Lexington Morning Herald. November 28, 1897
Runyon, Major C.F. Captain McLane Tilton and the Korean Incident of 1871, "Marine Corps Gazette, Volume 42, No. 2, February 1958
Tiger Hunt in Korea.
"VFW Magazine", March 2000
Tyson, Carolyn A. Marine Amphibious Landing in Korea, 1871. Historical Branch, G-3 Division, Headaquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, January 1966

_______________
Painting of the Marines landing on Kanghwa Island on page 3 by John Clymer.

 

Shinmiyangyo
The Other Korean War

Preface
History Repeated

The Hermit Kingdom
And the General Sherman

Amphibious Assault
The Landing at Kanghwa 

The Citadel
Valor on Two Sides 


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Medal of Honor - 
Korea, 1871

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Special Acknowledgment to Mr. Thomas Duvernay who has spent several years researching the Shinmiyangyo.  Mr. Duvernay has established contact with the surviving family of Lt. Hugh McKee, but is anxious to establish contact with surviving family of other participants in this action.  We encourage you to visit Mr. Duvernay's website at www.shinmiyangyo.org.

 

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