Home » Education Legislation » Korean Battle Flags with Links to Kim Jong Un Found at Naval Academy

Korean Battle Flags with Links to Kim Jong Un Found at Naval Academy

U.S. Marines posing with General Uh Je-yeon flag aboard USS Colorado in 1871

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Long forgotten flags captured by U.S. forces during an obscure 19th-century military action in Korea were uncovered during restoration work at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis last week. The well-preserved flags were rediscovered in the academy’s Mahan Hall when British ensigns seized as trophies during the War of 1812 were removed from their display cases.

When the display cases were opened for the first time since 1920, staff from the Naval Academy Museum found several dozen flags hidden behind the framework including the Korean standards that are still vivid.

Museum officials told USNI News the flags probably were stashed behind other trophies on display because there was a shortage of storage space. Over the years the location of the flags faded from memory. Current museum staff suspected the flags may be somewhere on the academy yard because they were listed in documents but no one was certain where they were.

The flags had been taken during a U.S.-Korean conflict linked to North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong Un according to Pyongyang.

Korean battle flags seized after the General Sherman incident discovered at the Naval Academy. USNI News Photo

In 1866, the American merchant ship USS General Sherman sailed to Pyongyang in attempt to open Korea for trade. The Koreans suspected that the true mission of the General Sherman was to loot their temples so they set the ship on fire and massacred the crew. The incident is still celebrated in North Korea as a strike against American imperialism with the claim that Kim Ung-u, a direct ancestor of Kim Jong Un, planned and led the attack though there is no historical evidence of his involvement.

In 1871, a U.S. expedition of five warships approached the Korean coast to establish diplomatic relations and inquire about the fate of the General Sherman. After the Koreans fired on the ships, the Americans launched an assault in which U.S Marines captured several coastal forts and removed the flags.

A North Korean postage stamp commemorating the attack on the General Sherman

The trophies were sent to Annapolis in accordance to an order issued by President James K. Polk in 1849 stating that all enemy flags, standards, and colors were taken by the Navy be deposited at the academy. They were listed with their provenance along with other flags taken from actions against Great Britain, Mexico, the Confederacy and even pirates in the Catalogue of the Flags in the Naval Institute Hall, U.S. Naval Academy published in 1888.

Mahan Hall

The collection of flags was first placed into storage in 1901 when the Naval Institute Hall was demolished. A major preservation effort took place in 1911 to save many of the flags in that were starting to deteriorate. They were then placed on the ceiling of the auditorium in Mahan Hall before it was decided that they needed to be moved into cases to better protect them. Photographs of the Korean flags on display appear in a 1913 catalog that was updated to include the trophies taken during the 1898 Spanish-American War. Plans to construct more cases to keep all the flags on exhibit never came to fruition, resulting in many flags like the Korean standards being pushed to the back of cases and covered as other flags were put on permanent display.

In the years that followed, all but one of the Korean flags were forgotten. The approximately 15-foot square flag belonging to General Uh Je-yeon who was killed during the 1871 conflict remained on display at the academy until 2007 when it was sent to Seoul on long-term loan at the request of South Korean officials.

Pueblo is shown at its new location at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum in Pyongyang where it was moved in 2012

Prior to the loan arrangement, U.S. Senator Wayne Allard had proposed trading the general’s flag for USS Pueblo that had been captured by North Korea in 1968 and exhibited near the site of General Sherman incident. The State Department rejected the proposal as being unworkable due to the many complications pertaining to U.S.-North Korean relations. Additionally, the government still maintains that the Pueblo is illegally seized U.S. property and should be returned without barter.

All the flags found in the display cases at the Naval Academy have been removed and are awaiting preservation. The only flags now missing from those listed in the 1888 catalog are the standards captured during the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) which were returned to Mexico as a goodwill gesture during the Truman administration.

  • Duane

    The “farm” in St. Petersburg is calling, time for your next ration of grog.

  • Wm Armstrong

    Oh ye of little IQ.

    It was the American merchant ship USS General Sherman. Merchant ship. No weapons, just trade.

    If a nation sinks a trade ship, that is an act of war.

    • John Locke

      Actually it was a British company that hired the ship to initiate trade but because the Captain and only one other crewmember were U.S. citizens it was flagged U.S.. Oh and she had 2 cannons and was the SS General Sherman. You and the author need to tidy-up your “facts”.

    • MarlineSpikeMate

      O ye of little knowledge of the Merchant Marine. Unarmed merchant ships are a relatively new concept.

    • kye154

      Sorry, but the history of this event indicates there were canons onboard. This wasn’t any innocent merchant ship either. Here is an extract from the historical notes: “the General Sherman moved upstream, firing cannons and eventually anchored at Hwang-gang-jung (House of Yellow River). Governor Park later reported that the ship had fired her guns into the crowd, killing seven and wounding five” . And under international law, any ship, whether it be a merchant ship or warship, must have permission of the port country, or it can be captured or sunk. Would your country allow a Russian merchant up the Mississippi river without permission? Of course not! So, why don’t you google the history of this and find out yourself.

  • You need to stop posting anti-American propaganda and go read some history: Germany united in 1871 and the Meiji Restoration happened in 1868, so those two nations were a long way from any sort of imperialistic exploits in 1866.

    • kye154

      When the United States sent a naval delegation, led by Commodore Matthew Perry, to “open” Japanese ports in 1853, the Japanese were well aware of the “Unequal Treaties” by the Western Powers that were imposed upon China in the previous ten years (since the Opium War of 1839-42) as a result of the superior military power of the Western nations. (America was a participant in the Opium wars, and, as a matter of fact, the USS Portsmouth landed 83 Marines and sailors in Canton, (Guangzhou), in October 1856 and eventually sent another 700 ashore in and around Guangzhou, in the Second Opium war 1856-1860). The Japanese knew of this and responded to the challenge of the West, during the end of the Tokugawa period, by modernizing, borrowing, and adaptation of Western political, military, technological, economic, and social forms to be a maritime power of their own, which eventually became known as the “Meiji Restoration”. Korea knew this too, and why they didn’t want any of the Western Powers, or the U.S., at their doorstep. The Joseon Dynasty court, which ruled Korea, was well aware of the displacement of the traditional ruling classes of China as a result of the First and the Second Opium Wars, but unlike Japan, maintained a strict policy of isolationism, forbidding any of those they ruled to trade with the outside world to avoid a similar fate. Although the Koreans initially provided the Americans of the General Sherman with food and provisions, by the accounts, the Americans did not honor the Koreans demands to leave and became belligerent, and took Adjutant-General Yi and his two deputies hostage, and began firing their canons, and killing Koreans. Consequently, the Koreans were well within their rights to sink the General Sherman and kill the crew.

  • Ah, the ad hominem, the mark of the truly educated.

  • The gist of the post was that Americans were evil and that it was both perfectly okay for the Koreans to slaughter the crew of General Sherman and wrong of the Americans to retaliate. In order to “prove” that point kye pointed to the actions of other western countries, including two that didn’t even exist at the time of the events in question. He then resorted to ad homimens against both me and Armstrong. I’m pretty sure none of that is a mark of “historic literacy.”

    • John Locke

      I understand where you’re coming from. The aggressive nature of U.S. trade expansionism in the 19th century doesn’t blend well with the rosy altruistic vision you have of that period in U.S. history but ………. the uncomfortable facts are readily available from reputable references if you dare.

  • Juice Jocky

    I think this is very interesting. Why does everything on the internet have to erupt in some type of argument and then a “yer ignurnt” comment. Chill people.

  • muzzleloader

    At first glance, the soldiers uniforms look like Union civil war troops.

    • Well, the incident occurred only 7 years after the end of the Civil War so that is to be expected.

      • RDF

        Marine uniforms.

  • NavySubNuke

    Great find by the museum staff. It makes me wonder what other buried treasures could be lurking in the academy’s trophy cases.
    Incidentally to those who visit the DC area make sure you make a trip up to Annapolis and check out the Naval Academy Museum. It is free to tour and they really did an amazing job on the renovation a few years ago. It is definitely worth a few hours of your time. You can also head over to the chapel and see the Crypt of John Paul Jones while you are there.

  • Facebook User

    If you’d like to know more about the Pueblo incident, please read “Act of War: Lyndon Johnson, North Korea and the Capture of the Spy Ship Pueblo,” by Jack Cheevers. Winner of the RADM Samuel Eliot Morison Award for Naval Literature.

  • ejamesbrennan

    Fake click-bait headline. The only “link” to the current hereditary maniac dictator of PDRK relys on acceptance of their ridiculous claims of the family’s divinity and perpetual source of all historical good.

  • Bothsidesnow

    I doubt your “historical notes”. They smell of propaganda.

  • Bothsidesnow

    Your clear bias is showing. I guess everybody views their history through their own rosy glasses… you though, are going just a bit too far with your non-facts, blatant opinion and frankly, though I always hesitate to use this word, divisive writings. You appear to have an agenda.

  • Bothsidesnow

    No proof or truth necessary? Just the “truly literate” know?

  • Bothsidesnow

    This is a pathetic attempt to deflect. You are not worth debating.

  • Alex Andrite

    BOYS, do not make me come back there !
    now go to sleep.
    Tomorrow we enter the town of my birth, I want to be ready ……

  • kwjung

    There’re many kims in korea. The ancestors of the kims now holding north korea have lived in Jeonju down south in Jeonbuk province long and Kim hyeong jik, who was kim ill sung’s father moved to Pyongyang and settled there when japan ruled Korea, Yonghap news reported. Probably the flag was that of the defense general of Pyungyang castle who was happen to be a Kim.

  • Mike Voltamp

    The US should fire couple of cruise missile’s to destroy the USS Pueblo the next time North Korea fires off a missile.

  • Bothsidesnow

    Certainly not you as stated, you are not worthy of any serious debate… you are a no-game-deflector. We should just rename you adhom…

  • Bothsidesnow

    Not worth debating with you…. your claims were biased and frankly, let’s call them what they were – lies.

  • Bothsidesnow

    Kye154 aka Ad Hom… move along deflector..

  • Robert Abe

    It may not be fake, but that photo shows (to me) obvious signs that it is perhaps fake. The soldiers show distinct differences from other objects in the scene that would not be lit in the same way as they are.

    • kye154

      That was the problem of the older daguerreotype photos. The basic reason why the soldiers are distinct, is because the actual flag behind them was originally bright yellow with black Korean inscription. (Solid bright colors on flags were commonly used by all Asian countries). Daguerreo photography couldn’t distinguish colors, but colors as shades of gray. The color of yellow would make the figures in front of the flag stand out more prominently, particularly if their uniforms were contrastingly blue. There is another picture of the same soldiers and flag, but the flag was moving in the wind to cause it to be blurred, that you can find on the network. But, it is a real flag, and there are other pictures that were taken during this same time period onboard the USS Colorado in 1871. Unfortunately, there are very few of the pictures of the battle that they had with the Koreans in 1871 show up. The photos were taken by Felice Beato during the 1871 Korean Campaign, and found in the National Archives.

    • RDF

      What would be the point of anyone to fake this picture? Especially if they have the real flag in the museum?

      • Bothsidesnow

        Look at the deck planks behind the soldiers… odd, yes?

  • Bothsidesnow

    Little AdHom back for more? Are these little naval toss-offs your pathetic attempt to be somehow legit?

  • Bothsidesnow

    Just because it’s long doesn’t make it hard..facts

    stow it Ad-Hom as you did not state one single legitimate fact, just a lot of very biased anti-America opinion and pansy Asian propaganda. If Wikipedia is truly your source of fact and you back it with Google, you are a true fool. Maybe a legitimate history book or two… they are out there rather than mere opinions on Wikipedia. Do you realize I possess the privilege to change anything I want on Wiki? Many do and do that all the time… Open-source you idiot…

  • Bothsidesnow

    More anti-American drool from Ad Hom.

  • Bothsidesnow

    This is bad to say but yes, I would like to see a US strategic strike on the Pueblo. Rather see her dead then being used as a trophy of hate. Yes, I know act of war and it may just the the female vengeance in me… just saying…

  • MDWhite

    Next time you share, try to make it something worthwhile…and you might want to try typing without slamming your forehead onto the keyboard. Remember, it’s a public computer and other people need to use it.

  • MDWhite

    You again? You can go back to your room now. They’ve changed the sheets and put down another drop cloth. And, tomorrow, I sincerely hope you can celebrate a meds-free Taco Tuesday in the dining hall.

  • MDWhite

    Be good…and maybe Nurse Susie will let you join the others when they go out for ice cream after dinner tonight.

  • MDWhite

    Pardon…did you share something worth consideration? Didn’t think so.

  • MDWhite

    No…the real question is…Who cares what you ‘think’? Please note…because it’s the Christmas season, I gave you just a little more credit for cognitive ability than I would an artichoke.

  • MDWhite

    Wow…urbane…pithy…and oh so condescendingly arrogant. Don’t tell me…you went to graduate school at Berkeley.

  • Chuck

    Idiot, your stupid comments are not supported by history.

  • Chuck

    You’re still an idiot.

  • BillyP

    Umm, don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade … but Pyongyang is ~100 kms from the sea, up the twisting Taedong River. Are we sure that the GENERAL SHERMAN got as far as Pyongyang?