French priests increased their efforts to penetrate Korea in the 1830s and were executed for violating Korean law, and Koreans learned that foreign fleets would be sent to enforce the work of the Vatican. More Catholics were executed, and when the French threatened to mount a punitive expedition, Koreans found it incomprehensible: “they told the French that they would understand perfectly the execution of their own nationals in France, should they try to disseminate Korean views there.”
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
The General Sherman Destroyed
“The United States also tried its hand at opening up Korea in 1866, when the merchant schooner General Sherman sailed up the Taedong River toward P’yongyang. A heavily armed ship with a mixed crew of Americans, British and Chinese, it received the message that it was not just Christianity that contravened Korean law but also foreign commerce.
Undaunted, the General Sherman forged ahead. Shortly a hostile crowd gathered on the shore, into which the frightened sailors unloaded their muskets. After that volley the provincial governor, a much respected and temperate official named Pak Kyu-su (who later negotiated the first treaty with Japan), ordered the General Sherman destroyed. The tide obliging receded, grounding the vessel. The Koreans killed all its crew in battle and burned the ship – unwittingly taking revenge for an Atlanta that could not.
It was a dastardly act, the authorities in Washington declared; what an outrageous affront to a peaceable bunch of people who just happened to be sailing a man-o-war up the river to P’yongyang! None other than Secretary of State William Seward, architect of westward expansion, proposed a joint expedition with the French to punish the Koreans . . . But it did not happen until 1871. By then the US government had decided to open Korea’s ports by force . . .
In this famed “Little War with the Heathen,” as the New York Herald called it, the American Asiatic Squadron . . . steamed through the straits near [Kangwha], where it took fire from newly cast Korean cannons. Marines hit the beaches at Kangwha and sought to capture several Korean forts. In the end about 650 Koreans [who battled ferociously] died [but after] some desultory and fruitless negotiations, the Americans withdrew.
The “Little War with the Heathen” was little noted nor long remembered in the United States, but [there exists] the stone monument that marks the spot where the General Sherman burned. It is not far from Kim Il Sung’s birthplace . . . and Koreans of that era thought that their staunch moral virtue had sent the foreigners packing, even if their weapons were technologically backward.”
(Korea’s Place in the Sun, A Modern History, Bruce Cummings, W.W. Norton Company, 1997, pg. 96-97)