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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Kwon Yul: Another Joseonese Army General, on-par with Red-Robed General Kwak Jae-woo

Kwon Yul (Hangul/Hanja: 권율/權慄; Born: 1537 at Ganghwa County, Incheon Metropole – Died: 1599) was a Korean Army General and the Commander-in-chief (도원수/導元帥) of the Joseon Dynasty, who successfully led the Korean forces against Japan during the Japanese Imjin Invasions of Korea (임진왜란). He is best known for the Battle of Haengju (행주대첩/幸州大捷) where he defeated a force of about 30,000 Japanese with 2,800 troops.

Kwon Yul hailed from the prestigious Andong Kwon clan (안동 권씨/安東權氏); his father, Kwon Cheol (권철), was the Yeonguijeong (영의정/領議政), the equivalent of Prime Minister of the Joseon court. However, Kwon did not enter political nor military career until he was 46. In 1582, he was first appointed a position in the Joseon government and promoted to several different positions including the mayor of Uiju (의주) in 1591.

When the Japanese forces invaded Korea in 1592, Kwon was appointed the mayor of Gwangju (광주; 光州), Jeolla province (전라도) and given the military command of the region. Kwon and his troops followed his commander Yi Gwang and headed towards Seoul to join the main force. However, Yi was eventually defeated by Japanese forces at Yongin (용인). Kwon managed to retreat back to Gwangju, and gathered around 1,000 militia.

When Japanese troops at Geumsan (금산), Jeolla province (present-day Geumsan County, Southern Chungcheong Province) began to move to Jeonju (전주), Kwon moved his army to Ichi-Baegogae (배고개/이치/梨峙), a gateway to Jeonju. 10,000 Japanese troops under Kobayakawa Takakage (小早川隆景) attacked Ichi. About 1,000 of Kwon's men fought and won the battle. Kwon supervised his unit by executing deserters personally, and his vanguard commander Hwang Jin (황진/黃進) kept fighting despite a gunshot injury. The battle resulted in the recapture of the Jeolla province.

The Joseon Government recognized Kwon's heroics, and named him the new Governor of the Jeolla province in the following year. Kwon then led an army of 10,000 to Gyeonggi to recapture Seoul once more, where he was joined by local militia and monks, which enabled Kwon to gather up to 20,000 men. Kwon's troops were stationed in the fortress Doksung (독성/禿城) near Osan. Japanese led by Ukita Hideie (宇喜多秀家) laid siege to the fort for one month, and Kwon's army was running out of water supplies. One day, Kwon ordered to bring several war horses on the fort wall and wash them with grains of rice. From a distance, it looked like the horses were bathed with plenty of water. The Japanese, who were waiting for the fort's water supply to run out, lost their spirits and retreated to Seoul. Kwon chased the retreating Japanese, inflicting casualties of over 3,000 men. After the war, the king Sunjo built a monument on the top of Doksung named Saemadae (세마대/洗馬臺), "the place where horses were washed", as a tribute to Kwon. After the battle, the Joseon government ordered Kwon to march northward and combat the Japanese in Seoul.

Kwon and his men set up camp in the run-down fortress of Haengju (행주산성/幸州山城) in Goyang DeogYang-gu, Gyeonggi Province. Although his forces were joined by local militias led by Kim Chun Il and monk soldiers led by Cheo Yung, his entire unit in Haengju was no more than 2,800 men. Threatened by this action, Japanese commanders Kato Kiyomasa (加藤清正) and Ukita, attacked Haengju fortress with 30,000 men, trying to finish off Kwon's troops once and for all. Ukita, who never led the attack in the frontline directly, led the Japanese toward the fortress. The Battle of Haengju commenced early in the morning of 12 February 1593. Japanese troops under Kato and Ukita, armed with muskets, surrounded the fortress and launched several massive attacks. However, Kwon's forces and the civilians at the fortress resisted heavily, throwing rocks, arrows, iron pellets, burning oil and molten iron at the Japanese. Korean anti-personnel gunpowder weapons such as Hwacha (화차; 火車) and Bigyeok Jincheolloe (비격진천뢰/飛擊震天雷) were also utilized in this battle. The Japanese, with over 10,000 casualties and top generals Ukita, Ishida Mitsunari, and Kikkawa Hiroie wounded, were compelled to retreat and fled the region. It was one of the three greatest Korean military victories during the Seven-Year War, along with the Battle of Hansan Island (한산대첩) and the Siege of Jinju (진주대첩).

After the battle, he kept his position, until the peace talks between Ming Dynasty and Toyotomi Hideyoshi began. Then he moved to the Jeolla province, and from then on, Kwon Yul became the Dowonsu (도원수/導元帥), the Commander-in-chief of Korean forces. He was briefly removed from office due to his harsh treatment of deserters, but was restored back again in the following year. He ordered the Admiral of the Navy, Won Kyun, to battle the Japanese in the Battle of Chilchonryang, which was won by Japanese. However Admiral Yi Sunshin was able to defeat the Japanese navy under Todo Takatora in the Battle of Myeongnyang. In 1597, Kwon and Chinese commander Ma Gui planned to combat the Japanese in Ulsan, but the Chinese commander-in-chief ordered Kwon to withdraw. Then Kwon tried to attack Japanese in Suncheon, but the idea was again rejected by Chinese.

After the war, Kwon retired from all of his posts; he died in July 1599 and buried at 223 Kwon Yul Avenue/KwonYul-ro, Seokhyeon-ri san 168-1 beonji, Jangheung-myeon, Yangju City, Gyeonggi Province. After his death, he was given the posthumous title of Yeonguijeong (영의정/領議政), and awarded the title of the Ildung Seonmu Gongshin (일등선무공신/一等宣武功臣) along with Yi Sunshin and Won Gyun, the most prestigious award for the generals who fought during Japanese invasions of Korea. Kwon is remembered in the Korean history as one of Korea's most successful and patriotic military commanders.