Report of Rear Admiral John Rodgers,

Detailing the Events Leading Up to the U.S. Assault on the Korean Forts


              Report of the Secretary of the Navy
                            No. 18.
                      EXPEDITION TO COREA
              Report of Rear-Admiral John Rodgers
No. 38.]
                   Flag-Ship of Asiatic Fleet
      Boissee Anchorage, Salee River, Corea, June 3, 1871
     SIR: I have the honor to report to the Department my arrival on the 30th May at this anchorage,
having on board this ship the Hon. Mr. Low, our minister to China, intrusted with the mission to
the Corean government.
     The fleet under my command, consisting of the Colorado, Alaska, Benicia, Monocacy, and
Palos, sailed from Nagasaki on the 16th and anchored off the Ferrieres Islands on the Corean
Coast, on the 19th of May.  Thick fogs delayed further movements, and the anchorage near
Eugenie Island was not reached until the 23rd of May.
     I have called this anchorage, which is indicated on the chart herewith transmitted, Roze Roads,
giving the name of the French admiral who directed the first examination made of them. From this
position I dispatched, on the morning of the 24th May, the Palos and four steam-launches, all under
the command of Commander H.C. Blake, to make an examination of the channel up to the anchorage
above Isle Boissee.  Lieutenant Commanders C.M. Chester and L.H. Baker, and Lieutenants W.W.
Mead and G.M. Totten, were detailed to command the launches and to make the surveys.  Soundings
were made of the channel and of the neighboring water, &c., as above, and of the neighboring waters
and shores.  The expedition reached its destination without difficulty or molestation from the natives,
and returned to Roze Roads in the evening of the 28th May.
     Meantime parties from the ships remaining in Roze Roads were engaged in surveying the
vicinity of that anchorage, the sounding taken are given on the chart herewith transmitted, and
landing parties had communication with Coreans, who appeared to be of a friendly disposition.
     A paper with written Chinese characters was handed to one of the officers, and its contents,
being translated, conveyed inquiries as to our nation and the purpose of our coming.  The paper
was without signature or indication of official character.  An informal reply was sent to it by the
minister, giving only the information that we were Americans; that our purpose was friendly, and
that we had come to seek an interview with the governing authorities.
     On Monday, May 29th, the fleet got under way and proceeded, but was compelled to anchor
some miles below Isle Boissee, owing to a thick fog which came on and hid the land from view. 
On the following day, May 30th, the fog being dispersed by a breeze, we proceeded and anchored
in the afternoon between Isles Boissee and Guirriere.  
     As soon as our anchorage was made a junk approached, having on board people who by signs
indicated that they desired to communicate with us.  Upon being invited, they came on board this ship
without any apparent hesitation.  They were the bearers of a letter which stated that from our former
communication it had been learned that we were Americans, and announced that three envoys had
been appointed by the Sovereign to confer with us.  These messengers were persons of inferior grade,
and came merely to announce the approach of the superior officials.  They were assured of our desire
to preserve peaceful relations, and our purpose not to commit any acts of violence unless we are first
attacked.  This assurance was received with great apparent satisfaction.  The next afternoon, May
31, the envoys previously announced made their appearance.  The minister, deeming it proper not
to receive them in person until their positions and powers were ascertained to be such that he could
do so without derogation to the dignity of his own rank as minister plenipotentiary, deputed Mr.
Drew, his acting secretary, to conduct the interview.  Mr. Drew conversed with the envoys in the
Peking dialect.  The conversation elicited the fact that the Coreans were officials of the third and fifth
rank, and that they brought with them no credential letters, and, so far as could be ascertained, that
they were not intrusted with any authority to initiate negotiations.
     Under these circumstances, Mr. Low determined not to see the envoys, and they were informed
that only officials of the first rank, who were empowered to conduct negotiations, could be received;
and to such alone could a full announcement of the objects of our coming be made. Their object
appeared to be to learn all they could of our purposes and intentions, without committing themselves
by the direct expression of assent or dissent to what was said to them; but their manner of
non-objection conveyed the impression of actual compliance with our wishes. They were assured of
our non-aggressive disposition, and were distinctly told that only to resent assault should we resort
to arms.  They were informed that we wished to take soundings of their waters, and to make surveys
of the shores.  To this they made no objection.  We expressed the hope that no molestation would be
offered to our parties in landing or passing up the river, and requested that word be sent to their
people that they might preserve the friendly relations which were desired.  It was further stated that
twenty-four hours would be given to make this announcement to people along the river, before any
movement was made.  To all this they made no reply which could indicate dissent.  So, believing that
we might continue our surveys while further diplomatic negotiations were pending, an expedition was
sent to examine and survey the Salee River, which empties into this bay, and leads into the River
Seoul, which passes near the city of Seoul, the capital and residence of the Sovereign.  
     The force dispatched consisted of the Monocacy, Commander E. P. McCrea; Palos, Lieutenant
C.H. Rockwell; Alaska's steam-launch, Lieutenant Commander C. M. Chester; Colorado's
steam-launch, Lieutenant W. W. Mead; Colorado's steam-cutter, Lieutenant G. M. Totten; Benicia's
steam-launch, Master S. Schroeder; all under the command of Commander H. C. Blake, who went
on board the Palos.
     What followed is detailed in Commander Blake's report, herewith inclosed.  As is therein related,
at the forts which defend a short bend in the river, not far from its mouth, the Coreans unmasked
batteries, and, without any previous intimation of their objection to our approach, or warning of their
intention, opened a heavy fire upon our boats and ships.  The steam-launches were in advance, and
but a few hundred feet from the forts.  The first fire was directed upon them, from cannon and from
gin-galls arranged in rows, one tier above another on the hill-side, and fired by a train of powder. 
This sudden and treacherous assault was not expected by our people, but they promptly resented it. 
The Palos and Monocacy coming up, opened fire with their heavier guns, and the tide, sweeping with
great velocity up the river, bore our force rapidly past the batteries and around the point on which
they are erected.  Here the Monocacy and Palos anchored, and from this position the retreating enemy
was shelled again.  Unfortunately, the Monocacy was carried by the current upon a rock and had a
hole broken through her bottom, which caused her to leak badly.  This being reported to Commander
Blake, he deemed it imprudent to proceed, and therefore returned with his command to this
anchorage.  The Monocacy was temporarily repaired, and her leak stopped without difficulty.  It was
our good fortune to have but two men slightly wounded, James A. Cochran and John Somerdyke,
ordinary seamen, in the Alaska's launch.  Our exemption from serious loss is only attributable to the
bad gunnery of the Coreans, whose fire, although very hot for the fifteen minutes in which they
maintained it, was ill-directed, and consequently without effect.  The vessels, in their return, received
no reply to the fire they directed against the batteries in passing.
     In accordance with my instructions not to pursue any advantage which might be obtained in case
of an attack upon him, and in view of the small force available for the purpose of landing in the face
of the large force of the enemy, Commander Blake did not deem it prudent to send a party on shore
to destroy the guns.  At once, upon the return of the expedition, it was determined to equip the
available landing force of all the ships, and to return in the morning to attack and destroy the
fortifications.  Preparations for this purpose were made, but upon consideration it was concluded to
wait for the next neap tides, when the currents will be less violent than during the prevalence of the
spring tides, which are now running.  At the present time the water rises from 30 to 35 feet with each
flood tide, and the velocity of the stream at the point at which the attack must be made renders the
management of vessels extremely difficult.  In this affair the greatest gallantry was displayed by all
engaged.  Commander Blake conducted his command with discretion, and his action meets with my
highest approbation in all respects.

[Note: the following was not in the letter to the Secretary of the Navy, as published, but in
the original letter written by Adm. Rodgers]

     Mr. Low agreed with me that the Coreans have by their hostile action frankly declared the attitude
they intend to take toward us, and that it becomes us to reply to them as frankly in the same way.
     Very ill effects resulted from the French Expedition to this country in 1866, in which hostile
movements were carried to no conclusion.  The Tien-tsin massacre has been attributed by some to
the contempt with which the French were regarded, in consequence, of their failure, by the natives,
who in their ignorance supposed that they, the French, had in that expedition put forth their utmost
     Our failure to prosecute this war will cause a loss of prestige, not only to ourselves but to all
Europeans in the East, deeply to be deplored.  And in the opinions of the foreign residents in these
countries, will be held as a cause of future difficulties.  The national loss will therefore be not only
immediate but prospective.
     A land force which I estimate at five thousand men would be needed to carry the war promptly
to a conclusion by taking the Capital and the fortresses in its vicinity.  With a few hired tugs, and a
few junks for transports, our present naval force may be made to answer all requirements afloat.  But
small vessels of our own, needed in any case in China, would be useful here.
     Meantime, the Palos is sent to Chefoo to convey dispatches and mail for the United States and
to obtain those which will be waiting for us at that port to which I have ordered that they be
forwarded to [ ] and been sent to Paymaster Eldredge in charge of stores at Hong Kong, to ship five
hundred (500) tons of coal; one hundred thousand rations, and a supply of ammunition to Chefoo;
and a present supply of about five hundred tons of coal has been sent for to Shanghai.
     I have sent a dispatch concerning the events here to Shanghai to be transmitted by telegraph to
the Department.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Rear-Admiral, Commander-in-Chief of Asiatic Fleet

Hon. Geo. M. Robeson,
Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D.C.


Report of Rear Admiral John Rodgers,

Detailing the Capture and Destruction of Korean Forts

Report of Rear-Admiral John Rodgers. No.43 UNITED STEAMER COLORADO, (1st rate,) FLAG-SHIP OF ASTATIC FLEET, Chefoo, China, July 5, 1871. SIR: In a telegraphic message, under date of June 3, and again in my dispatch No.38 of the same date, I had the honor of conveying His Excellency Mr. Low, United States Minister to China, to Corea, for the purpose of negotiating a treaty in accordance with the instructions received from the Government. In the dispatches referred to, I informed the Department of the unprovoked and treacherous assaults made on the 1st of June, by the forts in Kang-Hoa Island, upon a portion of the squadron engaged in an examination of the Salee River, and of my intention to resent the insult offered to our flag, should no sufficient apology or satisfactory explanation be offered for the hostile action of the Corean government. Again, under date of June 23, I sent a telegraphic dispatch, announcing the results of the retaliatory action which we were compelled to take in vindication of the honor of the flag. I have now the honor to write more at length concerning these matters. From the time of the attack of June 1, upon our vessels, ten days were allowed to pass before any movement was made. During this time no apology was offered, nor was an accredited officer sent to confer with Mr. Low. Indeed, in correspondence which passed between the minister and the prefect of the district lying hereabout, the ambushed attempt to cut off and destroy our whole surveying party was assumed by the Corean official to be entirely in accordance with the proprieties of intercourse between civilized people, their own civilization being, as was somewhat proudly stated, four thousand years old. Under these circumstances, nothing remained but to fulfill, with Mr. Low's full approbation and concurrence, the expectations which the Corean authorities might reasonably entertain from the words which the minister had addressed to them, to the effect that, in case due amends were not offered to the Minister and Admiral, they would know how to obtain satisfaction for the wanton attempt to destroy their surveying party. I may here remark that the delay of ten days had, apart from the propriety of giving the Coreans an opportunity to reconsider the hostile attitude which they had assumed, been expedient on account of the more favorable tides which would prevail at the expiration of that time, when the neap tides would render navigation in the little known and difficult passages of the Salee River less perilous than it was during the prevalence of the spring tides. Even with the more moderate neap tides our vessels did not escape injury, as will be hereafter seen. All preparations for our movement being completed, at 10 o'clock a.m., on the 10th of June, the expedition started. In pursuance of the humane policy indicated in the letters of instructions from the State and Navy Departments to Mr. Low and myself, it was decided that the punishment to be inflicted upon the Coreans should be confined to the forts from which the offense had been given. Copies of my orders to Commander H.C. Blake and to Commander L.A. Kimberly, marked respectively A and B, are herewith transmitted. The force dispatched consisted of the Monocacy, Commander E.P. McCrea; Palos, Lieutenant Commander H. F. Picking, conveying the boats of the squadron, in which were embarked all the men available for a landing force The Monocacy received the additional armament of two 9-inch guns, transferred from the Colorado. The force detailed from the Colorado, Alaska, and Benicia, numbered seven hundred and fifty-nine men. Of these, the crews of the steam-launches and the boat-keepers numbered one hundred and eighteen men, leaving the actual force put on shore six hundred and fifty-one men. Of these, one hundred and five were marines. Seven howitzers were landed. Commander H. C. Blake, of the Alaska, commanded in chief. He was to remain afloat, and went on board the Palos. Commander L. A. Kimberly, of the Benicia, was detailed, at his own request, to command the landing force. Lieutenant Commander Silas Casey commanded the artillery. Captain McLane Tilton commanded the marines. Accompanying this dispatch I transmit a chart, upon which the positions and movements of the two days' operations are given. The expedition moved with the Monocacy, preceded by two steam-launches surveying the channel in advance, while the Palos, having in tow twenty-two boats with the landing force, followed. The Monocacy had the duty of shelling the enemy's first fort, and of clearing away opposition to the landing. This first fort, now designated on the chart "marine redoubt," is distant about ---miles from the anchorage at Isle Boissee. As soon as the Monocacy came within good range, she opened upon the enemy's works with shell. The enemy returned the fire for a time, but was soon driven out, and when our landing was made abandoned the position and fled. The Palos coming up with the boats pulled in for the shore, and effected a landing below the fort. The point chosen for the disembarkation, while seemingly as good as any in other respects, was, for military reasons, deemed the best, since it flanked the enemy's works, and left nothing to be feared in our rear. The character of the shore was unknown, and it proved to be most unfavorable for our purpose. Between the water and the firm land a broad belt of soft mud, traversed by deep gullies, had to be passed. The men stepping from the boats, sank to their knees, and so tenacious was the clay, that in many cases they lost gaiters and shoes, and even trowsers' legs. The guns sank above the axles of their carriages, and it required the strenuous exertions of many men to get them through. The landing was covered by the guns of the Palos and the steam-launches. The boats reached the shore at about noon. As soon as firm ground was attained, the infantry battalion was formed, and the marines deployed as skirmishers. The advance at once began, and the fort was quietly occupied. This fort was constructed of stone, its walls being about 12 feet high. From the upper flank stretched a long water battery ; it mounted thirty odd guns of various caliber, most of them being the small bronze breach-loading pieces of from one to two inch bore; five or six were about 18-pounders, and there were two 32-pounders. The destruction of the fort was at once begun. The guns were cast into the river, with the exception of the 32-pounders, which were spiked. The walls of the fort were thrown down and the stores of powder, provisions, and clothing burned. By this time the afternoon was so far gone that it was not expedient to make a further advance on that day.The force, therefore, went into camp upon a favorable spot in the vicinity of the fort. The marines, with one howitzer, occupied the position in advance of the main body of the force, and pickets were established to guard against surprise during the night. The Coreans made an attack at about midnight, but it was confined to distant firing upon our lines, and a few shells thrown by the howitzers caused their retreat. On the morning of the 11th, the destruction of the first fort was made more complete, and the advance began, at an early hour, toward the main objects of attack, the enemy's forts on the point at the turn of the river, about three miles above. The next defense of the enemy was a stone fort, built upon a bluff, about a mile distant from that already occupied. It is now designated on the chart Fort Monocacy. This fort also had been shelled by the Monocacy, and being reconnoitered by the marines, was found to be entirely deserted. It was a square structure and occupied a strong position; it mounted about the same number of guns, similar in character to those destroyed in the first fort. This place was also dismantled without delay. The force again moved on. The march was a most difficult one. The country is a succession of steep hills, with deep ravines between, over which foot soldiers passed with great fatigue, while the guns were got on only by widening the paths, where there were paths, and by cutting out the bushes and filling up gullies in other places. They were dragged up steep acclivities, by whole companies detailed to help the artillerists, or lowered down from the heights with ropes. A squad of sappers and miners, provided with shovels, picks, and axes, was very useful in facilitating the passage of the artillery, as well as in destroying the fortifications. As the advance continued toward the upper and main fort, large bodies of the Coreans were seen on the left flank of our force, and in such position that when the direction of our march was changed, as it must be to approach the forts, they would be behind us, and have us cut off from retreat should we be repulsed in the assault upon the forts in front. To guard against danger of an attack upon our rear while engaged in front, five howitzers, with three companies of infantry, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Wheeler, were placed in strong position, which they held as a rear guard during the advance of the main body. Their service was most valuable, inasmuch as they checked several attempts of the enemy to advance, and by their accurate fire prevented a very large body from ever getting fairly into action. They also did good service by their fire, directed over our forces, against the forts beyond. At about 11 o'clock, on the forenoon of the 11th of June, the hill nearest the enemy's stronghold, or citadel, was gained. The Monocacy having moved up the river, keeping nearly abreast our land force, had taken position and shelled the forts for some time before our men came up to their vicinity. This fire was continued until our assaulting force was ready, when signal being made it was discontinued. Behind the crest of the hill which they occupied our men were formed for the assault upon the citadel, now distant about 150 yards, and,covered from the enemy's fire, they rested awhile to recover from the exhaustion of the hurried march under a hot sun. Up to this time, although there had been some brisk skirmishing, but few of our men had been wounded; several had been prostrated by sunstroke. The citadel about to be assaulted, the key to the defenses upon the point below, was built upon the apex of a conical hill about 150 feet high from the bottom of the ravine, through which our men had to pass to reach it. The hill side was very steep, and walls of the fort joined the acclivity with scarcely a break in the line. Had not the face of the walls been somewhat shattered by the shells from the Monocacy and the howitzers on shore, the escalade would have been most difficult. Our men kept up a fire from their resting place upon the fort whenever an enemy exposed himself, and this they did constantly and with the most reckless courage, for they maintained an incessant fire, mounting the wall and discharging their pieces as fast as they could load. There was no artillery in the citadel. When all was ready, the order was given to rush forward down the slope and up the opposite hill. The enemy maintained their fire with the utmost rapidity until our men got quite up the hill, then, having no time to load, they mounted the parapet and cast stones upon our men below, fighting with the greatest fury. Nothing could check our men; on they rushed. The heroic McKee was first to mount the parapet, and the first to leap into a hand-to-hand conflict. There he fell, as his father fell in Mexico, at the head of his men, first inside the enemy's stormed works. Other officers and men were quickly over the parapet. The fighting inside the fort was desperate. The resolution of the Coreans was unyielding; they apparently expected no quarter, and probably would have given none. They fought to the death, and only when the last man fell did the conflict cease. The point to the river was opened to a rear attack by the capture of the citadel, and the garrison fled. Many of them, however, fell under the fire of our musketry and howitzers, which had nearly cut them off from retreat. To return to the vessels engaged: After the boats left the Palos, and had made their landing, that vessel got under way to pass up to join the Monocacy in the attack upon the forts. Unfortunately, she struck a rock on the falling ride. She keeled over, and had a hole stove in her bottom, from which she leaked badly. It was only with the rising tide that she came off, and anchored late in the evening. It required the full employment of her steam-pumps to keep her afloat. The Monocacy dragged her anchors in the night, and was brought up only with an additional anchor, after she had drifted for a considerable distance. In swinging with the tide she also struck and grated upon sunken rocks, but received no serious injury so far as is known. Two of the steam-launches require repairs. These circumstances will serve to indicate the extreme difficulties and hazards which our force afloat encountered. Even with the advantage of the neap tides, comparatively moderate in their force, six steamers engaged, large and small, suffered injury. In the affair of June 1, as mentioned in a former dispatch, the Monocacy received an injury by striking the rocks, from which she leaked so badly that it was thought for a time that it would be necessary to run her ashore to keep her from sinking. Both the Monocacy and the Palos received repairs of a temporary character, by which the leaks were overcome. It will be necessary to dock both vessels, and they have been sent to Shanghai for that purpose. To summarize the results of the operations of the 10th and 11th of June, we captured and destroyed five forts. Fifty flags were taken including that the generalissimo; four hundred and eighty-one pieces of ordnance fell into our hands, besides very many match-locks and gingalls. The guns comprised eleven 32-pounders, fourteen 24-pounders, two 20-pounders, and the remainder, four hundred and forty-four, were 2 and 4 pounders. Two hundred and forty-three dead Coreans were counted in the works. Few prisoners were taken, not above twenty, and some of these were wounded. Thus was a treacherous attack upon our people and an insult to our flag redressed. On the afternoon of the capture of the "du Conde" forts, Commander Blake sent down to me a dispatch announcing the victory and requesting instructions, stating at the same time that the position gained on shore could be held. It was not deemed desirable to do this, inasmuch as our purpose was not to enter upon extended operations, and on account of the exceeding danger and difficulty of holding the vessels in position in the furious and uncertain currents of the river, he was directed to withdraw the entire force on the following morning, the 12th June. This was effected without hindrance or accident, and the vessels, with the landing force embarked, returned to the Boisee anchorage. 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. Herewith are transmitted copies of my orders to Commanders H. C. Blake and L. A. Kimberly, and the reports of those officers; also, the reports of W. S. Schley, Silas Casey, D. P. Cassel, W. K. Wheeler, and of Captain McLane Tilton, United States Marine Corps, together with the surgeon's list of casualties. Also, I transmit a copy of my General Order No.32. The fleet sailed from the anchorage off Isle Boisee, of the morning of 3rd July, and arrived in the harbor of Chefoo on the morning of the 5th. I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant, JOHN RODGERS, Rear-Admiral, Commander-in-Chief of Asiatic Fleet. Hon. Geo. M. Robeson, Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C.

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