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Volume 32, No. 9  – September 2019

The President’s Message:

The Round Table is officially a non-profit organization.  Legally we will be known as “The Nineteenth Century American History Round Table.”  Alas, it was a name not already taken.  The printed documents have arrived.  Thank you to Bill McEachin for all his work that allowed us to get our non-profit status.  It was greatly appreciated.  We shall be securing a new location soon.

The September meeting is cancelled as well as the October meeting.  I will inform you as soon as possible about a new location.

Gerridine LaRovere

November 13, 2019 Program:

The speaker for November will be Robert Schuldenfrei.  The program is titled In Judgement of Ben Butler.  The historical figure of Benjamin F. Butler has always been interesting.  From the time Bob learned about the American Civil War the character of this man, who was impugned by both the North and the South, was a source of fascination..  Who was this evil, incompetent person, who was a leader of men?  For the next meeting we are going to investigate Benjamin Franklin Butler.

Extra Article:

The following article by Mike Hall was published in the Australian Civil War Round Table Journal.  Gerridine thought that you might find it interesting about the global perspective during the War years.  The article is reprinted as it was originally printed.

Did you know that decades before the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, elements of the United States Navy fought pitched battles with forces of the Japanese empire?  In 1863 the U.S., despite its own configuration at home, became involved in the internal struggles of Japan, which had become centered around the recent encroachment of American and European traders into the “closed empire” of Nippon.

In April of 1863 U.S. merchantmen, while traveling through the Straits of Shimonoseki (between the islands of Honshu and Kyushu in southwest Japan) were fired upon by ships belonging to the local lord, Prince of Nagato.  One of the ships, the mail packet Pembroke, was sunk.  This attack was in violation of the treaties which Japan had signed with U.S. and European powers during the late 1850’s, guaranteeing entry and trading rights to foreign shipping.  However, for previous centuries foreigners had been treated with great suspicion by the Japanese, due to what they perceived as European ambition towards the domination of those lands on the Pacific rim.  In 1639 the Shogun, who ruled the empire by the authority of the emperor, expelled all foreign traders except for the Dutch and refused ex-patriot Japanese permission to return home, and refused those present permission to leave.  In 1858 the shogunate, under control of the Tokugawa family, signed treaties with foreign powers, including the U.S., granting them limited rights to visit and trade in the islands.  Many feudal lords, including the Prince of Nagato, opposed the Tokugawa family and its policies and used attacks such as those on the American trading vessels to weaken the position of the ruling family.

USS Wyoming under the command of Commander David McDougal, was in the area searching for Confederate raiders, especially the CSS Alabama.  McDougal was ordered to Shimonoseki to investigate the incidents and. Once there, encountered warships of the Prince of Nagato inshore.  On July 16, 1863, battle was engaged and for about an hour USS Wyoming exchanged fire with the Japanese ships and shore batteries.  USS Wyoming suffered a loss of four killed and seven wounded, and afterwards returned to its patrol of that region.  However, that was not the end of the affair.

European  merchantmen had also been attacked and those governments had resolved to take immediate action.  Later in July a detachment of French landed in the area, destroyed a shore battery, and burned a town and ammunition dump.  By September 5th a fleet of French, Prussian, English, Dutch, and U.S. warships were anchored off Shimonoseki.  Capt. Cicero Price of USS Jamestown reported to Gideon Wells, Secretary for the Navy, that the English and French had landed a combined force of 650 but had postponed a planned attack on Shimonoseki due to news of the possibility of a new treaty being negotiated by Japanese commissioners and the French.  However, the Japanese government repudiated the actions of its commissioners, stating that they had exceeded their authority.

The U.S. Navy was in an awkward position at this time.  Its major ocean-going warships were desperately needed to scour the seas for its enemies, the Confederate raiders, yet the national interest and policies demanded that the U.S. participate in this joint action with the Europeans so as to maintain its role in international affairs in general, and its rights to influence the decisions regarding this particular incident.  Accordingly, a junior officer from the USS Jamestown , Ensign Frederick Pearson, was ordered to charter a ship and use it to represent his country.  The merchant steamship Ta-Kiang was chartered by the U.S. Navy and a detachment of sailors under the direction of Ensign Pearson shipped aboard a Parrot-rifled cannon and then joined the combined fleet.

The combined fleet reacted to the repudiation of negotiations by attacking the town of Shimonoseki, bombarding its buildings and batteries by ship-borne guns and launching an assault by land forces.  Ensign Pearson’s merchant vessel-cum-warship was used to transport supplies and to carry messages, and also managed to fire a few rounds from its Parrot gun for the honor of the Union Navy.  By September 8th the Prince of Nagato signed an armistice, agreeing that the Straits of Shimonoseki would be open to shipping of all countries and that foreign ships would be allowed to land at the port for all provisioning.

This entire affair shows that although the U.S. government and Navy was mainly preoccupied during the early 1860’s with the conflict between North and South, events and developments in the international community, even in Asian region, were not ignored.  The U.S. saw itself as a power to rival the strengths of Europe, at least potentially, and its international position needed to be maintained by participation in such affairs in order to preserve that potential beyond the time and effort currently expanded in the civil war.  Thus the Federal government was willing to make limited commitments to participatory role in international crises such as the Shimonoseki affair, in spite of huge demands on its resources caused by the War of Secession. 


Last changed: 09/06/19