Charles Le Gendre

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Charles William Joseph Émile Le Gendre
Charles William LeGendre.jpg
Born August 26, 1830
Oullins, France
Died September 1, 1899(1899-09-01) (aged 69)
Seoul, Korea
Cause of death Apoplexy
Nationality American
Education Royal College of Reims, University of Paris
Occupation Army officer and diplomat
Spouse(s) Clara Victoria Mulock
(Ito Ikeda)

Charles William (Guillaum) Joseph Émile Le Gendre (August 26, 1830 – September 1, 1899) was a French-born American officer and diplomat, who served as advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Empire of Japan from 1872 to 1875 and as advisor to Emperor Gojong of the Korean Empire from 1890 to 1899.


Early life[edit]

Le Gendre was born in Oullins, France the son of Jean-François Legendre-Héral, a noteworthy painter, sculptor, and professor at the L'Ecole de Beaux-Arts.[1] Le Gendre was educated at the Royal College of Reims, but he eventually graduated from the University of Paris.[2] At the age of 24, he married Clara Victoria Mulock, daughter of a well-known New York lawyer, in Brussels. Soon after their marriage, Le Gendre moved to the United States and became a naturalized citizen.

Civil War military career[edit]

With the outbreak of the American Civil War in the United States in 1861, Le Gendre helped recruit the 51st New York Volunteer Infantry, and was commissioned a major of that regiment on October 29, 1861. Le Gendre participated in combat in North Carolina, and was present at the capture of Roanoke Island in 1862. However, he was badly wounded at the Battle of New Bern, North Carolina on March 14, 1862, where he was cited for his courage.

Despite his injuries, Le Gendre continued with the Army and was promoted to lieutenant colonel on September 20, 1862. In 1863, he was attached to the IX Corps, with which he fought in numerous campaigns. He was promoted to colonel on March 14, 1863 and assumed command of the 51st Regiment under IX Corps and participated in the siege and capture of Vicksburg. At the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia on May 6, 1864, while serving under General Ulysses S. Grant, Le Gendre was again severely injured, this time shot in the face with the bullet taking off his nose and left eye. Although still hospitalized in Annapolis, Maryland, he helped organize the city's defenses against the last Confederate raid on the city. He was later transferred to New York, where he helped recruit for the IX Corps. He was honorably discharged on October 4, 1864 and was further given the brevet rank of brigadier general on March 13, 1865.

Diplomatic career in China[edit]

On July 13, 1866, Le Gendre was appointed to be American consul at Amoy, Qing dynasty China. He left New York for Liverpool in July 1866 and traveled overland through Europe and Asia, eventually arriving in Amoy in December 1866. As consul, Le Gendre was in control of five of the Treaty Ports open to foreign commerce in China: Amoy, Keelung, Taiwanfu (modern-day Tainan), Tamsui, and Takao. He worked to suppress the illegal trade in indentured Chinese laborers.

Following the wreck of an American ship Rover and the Rover incident in Taiwan on March 12, 1867 and the subsequent killing of the surviving crew by Taiwanese aborigines, Le Gendre traveled to Fuzhou, to persuade the governor generals of Fujian and Zhejiang provinces to put pressure on the Chinese authorities in Taiwan to resolve the issue. Instead of taking action, the governor general of Fujian gave Le Gendre permission to go to Taiwan himself, and wrote a letter of introduction, asking that the prefect of Taiwan cooperate. Le Gendre commissioned the United States steamer Ashuelot in order to visit the scene of the wreck and to (unsuccessfully) try to get officials in Taiwan to act. After a subsequent failed punitive expedition carried out by Rear Admiral Henry H. Bell of the United States Navy, Le Gendre again returned to Taiwan — this time without any reference to his superiors, to gather more information.

Upon return to south China, Le Gendre managed to persuade the governor general in Fuzhou to send a military force to southern Taiwan. The force, significantly smaller than the 400 to 500 soldiers Le Gendre recommended, was dispatched on July 25, 1867. Le Gendre had requested a gunboat from Admiral Bell, which was denied, but eventually managed to commission a private warship, the Volunteer. He embarked for Taiwan on September 4, 1867, telling his superiors that he was going purely as a spectator.

Le Gendre quickly assumed de facto command of the mission, which entailed a long and difficult march deep into the mountainous interior of southern Taiwan. Le Gendre negotiated a treaty guaranteeing the safety of shipwrecked American and European sailors with the chief of the aboriginal tribes in the area.

On September 6, 1871 a Ryukyuan ship was wrecked off the coast of Taiwan and its surviving crew murdered in a situation similar to that of Rover (see Mudan Incident (1871)). On February 29, 1872, Le Gendre left for Taiwan to attempt to have his treaty extended to cover Japanese sailors as well. The mission was unsuccessful, and Le Gendre also had a falling out with the United States Minister to Beijing.

Career in Japan and Korea[edit]

Charles Le Gendre's grave in Seoul, Korea

In December 1872, while traveling from Amoy back to the United States, Le Gendre stopped off in Japan and was hired by Japanese Foreign Minister Soejima Taneomi as an advisor in both foreign affair and military affairs, becoming the first foreigner employed in a Japanese government post.[2]

Le Gendre participated in the December 1872 diplomatic mission by Soejima to Beijing. After meeting with only partial success in negotiations, Le Gendre helped organize Japan's Taiwan Expedition of 1874, which he intended to personally accompany.[3][4] However, Le Gendre was unexpectedly imprisoned for a brief time at Shanghai on the orders of the United States Consul-General for deserting the service, and thus never actually made it to Taiwan. In 1875, the Japanese government awarded him the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star, which represents the second highest of eight classes associated with the award. This represented the first time that the Order had been conferred on a non-Japanese recipient.[2] Le Gendre retired later that same year.

Le Gendre remained in Japan until 1890, working in a private capacity as an advisor to Ōkuma Shigenobu. In March 1890 he left Japan to become an adviser to King Gojong of Korea. He remained in the Korean court until his death of apoplexy in Seoul on September 1, 1899.[5] He was buried in the Yanghwajin Foreigners' Cemetery in Seoul.[6]

Le Gendre was author of Progressive Japan: A Study of the Political and Social Needs of the Empire (1878).

A large portion of his private papers are now in the possession of the Library of Congress. Among these are his four-volume Notes of travel in Formosa (1874-1875), an intelligence report illustrated with photographs and paintings and published only in 2012 by the National Museum of Taiwan History.

Family in Japan[edit]

Never having divorced his American wife Le Gendre nonetheless married Ito Ikeda in Tokyo sometime in late 1872 or early 1873. Ito Ikeda was the illegitimate daughter of Matsudaira Yoshinaga, a Daimyo (大名) regarded as one of the "Four Wise Lords of the bakumatsu". They had a son and two daughters, only one of whom, Aiko (愛子), survived to adulthood. Their son later became a famous Kabuki (歌舞伎) actor, Ichimura Uzaemon XV (十五代市村羽左衛門), who died in May, 1945 of natural causes. Le Gendre's and Ikeda's granddaughter by Aiko, Seikiya Toshiko (関屋 敏子), was a well-known soprano prior to her suicide in 1941.[7]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ John Shufelt, “Charles Le Gendre – Biographical Notes”; “李仙得略傳.” In, 李仙 得臺灣記行. 台南: 國立台灣博物館, 2013, p. lxxv.
  2. ^ a b c "Biography in detail". Retrieved 2008-01-14. 
  3. ^ Taiwan By Andrew Bender, Julie Grundvig, Robert Kelly, p.23
  4. ^ A Sudden Rampage: The Japanese Occupation of Southeast Asia, 1941-1945 By Nicholas Tarling, p.3 [1]
  5. ^ "Obituary". New York Times. 1899-09-03. Retrieved 2008-01-14. 
  6. ^ Thomas Mick (Dec 17, 2010). "Gen Charles William Le Gendre". Civil War Brigadier General, Diplomat, Author. Find a Grave. 
  7. ^ John Shufelt,“Charles Le Gendre – Biographical Notes”; “李仙得略傳.” In, 李仙 得臺灣記行. 台南: 國立台灣博物館, 2013, pp. lxxxi, lxxiv.

External sources[edit]