General Sherman

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The General Sherman was an American merchant vessel which was destroyed and all its crew killed by Korean officials after sailing to Pyongyang without authorization in 1866.

The ship sailed up the Taedong River in the summer of 1866, making its way towards Pyongyang without authorization. After the ship got stuck on a sandbar while en route to the city, a skirmish erupted between the crew and a group of Koreans. According to some sources, the Americans attempted to kidnap a number of Korean people.[1] The provincial governor, angered by the crew's incursion upon Korean territory, ordered the ship destroyed and all twenty-four of its crew killed. Korean envoys informed Beijing of the incident soon afterwards, but the American legation in China was left in the dark, and planned an armed mission to Korea to investigate what happened to the disappeared ship.

The response of Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu to this and other related events has been identified as marking a dramatic shift in the shogunate's stance on such issues. Rather than siding with Korea and expressing concern for enhanced defenses against Western incursions, Yoshinobu wrote to Robert Van Valkenburg, American minister in Japan, expressing sympathy, and his condemnation of the Korean actions; further, he suggested that if Korea were to come around and sue for peace, he hoped that the Americans would be able to put aside grudges and enter into friendly relations with Korea.

In 1871, the United States sent a punitive mission, in response to the destruction of the General Sherman and its crew. Five ships carrying 1,230 men arrived in Korea and demanded a treaty to ensure the safety of American sailors in the region. In the ensuing conflict, as many as 250 Koreans were killed, five forts were seized, and a number of villages burned down.[1]


  • Robert Hellyer, Defining Engagement, Harvard University Press (2009), 231-232.
  1. 1.0 1.1 Gallery labels, Bojagi: Unwrapping Korean American Identities, Wing Luke Museum, June 2015.