U.S. Naval Officer William Alexander Marshall
The papers of U.S. naval officer William Alexander Marshall (1849-1926) span the years 1870-1926, with the bulk of the material dated 1904. The collection chronicles the Battle of Chemulpo near present day Inch'ŏn, Korea, on February 9, 1904, at the beginning of the Russo-Japanese War. Marshall commanded the gunboat USS Vicksburg, which was deployed to Chemulpo to protect American interests in Korea as tensions in the region escalated between Japan and Russia. The collection, consisting of 367 images, includes correspondence, reports, a personal log, photographs, and printed matter documenting events surrounding the naval battle and the opening phases of the war as witnessed from the Korean peninsula. Other collection items include orders to duty and correspondence from Marshall's naval career and an obituary.
Material relating to the Russo-Japanese War begins with a copy of Marshall's orders on December 25, 1903, to proceed to Korea and his personal log begun on his arrival in Chemulpo Bay on December 30. Letters to and from Marshall in the following weeks chart the deteriorating international situation. His letters to Horace Newton Allen, the American minister in Seoul, and his reports to Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans, commander of the American Asiatic Fleet, record escalating tensions as Russian, Japanese, and neutral ships moved in and out of the port and American military personnel and provisions were deployed from the Vicksburg to aid the American legation in Seoul. Incoming letters from Allen and Edward Taylor Witherspoon, a navy lieutenant who led the ship's security detail in Seoul, contain updates on diplomatic negotiations and military developments, news of disturbances in Seoul and elsewhere in Korea, and concerns over the safety of Americans living in Korea.
The Battle of Chemulpo took place on February 9, 1904, when a Japanese squadron commanded by Rear Admiral Uryū Sotokichi attacked the Russian protected cruiser Vari︠a︡g and gunboat Korietz. Marshall's personal observations and intelligence gathering on the battle are recorded in his log, reports to Rear Admiral Evans, and photographs of the Russian ships before and after the battle.
Marshall's log, letters, and reports chronicle decisions he made as the captain of a neutral ship. Believing he was constrained by America's neutrality, he did not join the commanders of other neutral ships prior to the battle in protesting Uryū's announced intention to attack the Russian ships and after the battle in agreeing to take aboard able-bodied crew members from the Vari︠a︡g and Korietz when the Russians scuttled their damaged ships. Marshall's decisions drew strong criticism from Alexsandr Ivanovich Pavlov, the Russian minister to Korea, and inspired international debate over the parameters within which neutral ships can operate during war. The collection contains several published English-language articles concerning the controversy.
The Marshall Papers were deposited in the Library of Congress in 1949 by the Naval Historical Foundation, which converted them to a gift in 1998. They were digitized as part of the Library of Congress's Meeting of Frontiers website that debuted in 1999. The site told the story of the American exploration and settlement of the West, the parallel exploration and settlement of Siberia and the Russian Far East, and the meeting of the Russian-American frontier in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. This additional collection-level framework for the digitized Marshall Papers was created in 2021when all Meeting of Frontiers content was migrated to the Library's updated web platform.
Items in the Marshall collection are arranged by type of material as official correspondence, including reports; clippings and photographs; personal log; scrapbook; and obituary.
Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, William Alexander Marshall Papers.