The Star Spangled Empire: The Japanese-American War of 1853 and Beyond

Introduction
Hello! I am Potato Cannon, long time lurker, first time writer. Though I am only mildly versed with US history in the mid 19th century, I find the period fascinating regardless and hope to make a fun and engaging story. A story with twists and turns, academic and personal retellings, and with a lot of eagles and fireworks.

In this tale of alternate history, we turn the clock back to 1853, with the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry in Japan. In our timeline, Perry successfully followed through with the orders given to him by President Millard Filmore to “reopen” Japan, and allow for further diplomatic and economic contact between Japan and the rest of the world. In this timeline, however, tragedy strikes. Rather than peace, an unfortunate series of events leads to the attempted boarding of the USS Susquehanna, and the death of Commodore Perry. The fallout is immediate and the course of history changes forever.

So, without further ado, let us begin our journey into …

The Star Spangled Empire: A History of the United States

---
(Excerpts taken from ‘Disaster in the East - America’s War with Japan’ by Daniel Douglas, Philadelphia International Publishing, 1991)

unknown.png

Commodore Matthew Perry (1794-1853), photographed before the expedition, 1852

Commodore Perry, veteran of the Mexican-American War and ‘father of America’s steam navy’, is a complicated figure in American history. To some, he is seen as a tragic figure in American history whose vision for the future was cut short. To others, he is a martyr for the American dream, a man whose sacrifice sparked the beginning of America’s hegemony. And finally, some see him as little more than a petty imperialist whose death was the perfect excuse for America to try and catch up with the imperial powers in Europe. Regardless of what one considers Perry, he is without a doubt one of the most influential persons in American history, comparable to the likes of Washington, Grant, and Lee. A tenacious commander with a knack for bravado, Perry’s expedition to Japan would prove to be a tumultuous and ultimately bloody endeavor.


(...)

Originally given the orders by US president Millard Fillmore, Commodore Perry’s expedition to the Tokugawa Shogunate was intended to “open” the country, through either diplomacy or force, and allow for more foreign ships and traders to visit Japan. Gathering a small fleet of ships, comprised of the warships Susquehanna, Mississippi and Powhatan, alongside several armed supply ships and a number of light sloops, Perry’s fleet was imposing despite its relatively small size. Setting out from Virginia in late November of 1852, and despite making the arduous journey across the Atlantic Ocean to the Far East, Perry’s trip went relatively smoothly. With the use of paddle driven steamers and more up to date forms of navigation and knowledge of the regions, Perry’s small fleet of ships was able to snake its way across the Indian Ocean and finally into the Pacific. Due to the infancy of American shipbuilding in the recently acquired California, such a long trip was an unfortunate requirement.

USS_Susquehanna2s.JPG

USS Susquehanna, in port in Shanghai, 1853

The first signs of trouble would come in May of the next year, following the arrival of Perry’s ships in the Ryukyu islands. Here, Perry threatened the locals with his warships, stating that he would land with “some of the most ruthless men of the United States Marines” should they refuse to allow him audience with King Shō Tai of the Ryukyus, completely disregarding the claims to the islands made by the Satsuma Domain. Despite his warning, and even the landing of more than 150 Marines on the shore as a show of force, Tai refused to bow to the threats. Knowing that any and all news would be sent to Edo and heard by the Tokugawa government, Perry was ultimately forced to relent. With some of the proverbial wind taken out of his sails, Perry failed to properly negotiate an opening of the Ryukyus, and was forced to continue northwards. Regardless of this, Perry and his men sailed onwards.

Rethinking his strategy, Perry moved to implement “Gunboat Diplomacy”, or the show of military threats to force parties to the negotiating table, in full. With his bluff called by Tai, Perry knew that the time for more peaceful dealings was running out. Finally, on June 22nd of 1853, Perry’s ships steamed their way into the harbor of Edo, specifically Uraga, to begin their negotiations with the Shogun. Knowing of the failure of Captain James Biddle to properly bring the Japanese to the table, Perry moved to press past Japanese watch towers and moved ever closer towards the bay itself. Taking the Susquehanna and Mississippi, as well as the sloop Saratoga, Perry sailed past several Japanese warships that had been sent out to try and force Perry’s ships back out to sea.

With word of the debacle in the Ryukyus nearly a month earlier, the forces of the Shogun had been on high alert for Perry’s ships since. The small number of cannons in possession of the Uraga Bugyō, officials tasked with the defense of the harbor, fired blanks in an attempt to stop Perry’s ships. Finally, three larger vessels sailed within a thousand feet of both port and starboard sides of the Susquehanna. As the ships halted, a small number of boats had departed from their warships, hoping for an audience with Perry and his men. Throughout the afternoon, Perry refused to allow the men to come aboard, and instead demanded that he be given a personal audience with representatives of the Shogun, and eventually the Shogun himself. The Japanese refused, stating that Perry’s actions were “reprehensible” and “barbaric”, and that “such violent threats and actions cannot be rewarded with pomp and circumstance.” A volley of blanks were fired by both shoreline cannons and the lightly armed Japanese warships. By the late afternoon, Perry’s ships had been almost surrounded.

It is here that the beginning of what has been referred to as the “Edo Massacre” starts, and accounts have yet to be cleared. The most common line of thought is that a Japanese sailor, carrying a matchlock firearm, had accidentally loaded his gun with a bullet rather than just powder, which was being used to startle the Americans and force them away. The bullet, traveling several hundred feet and losing significant velocity, nonetheless struck an American sailor in the shoulder right in front of Perry, who was on the deck at the time. Thinking quickly, Perry gave the orders to fire a single round at the Japanese vessel. The cannon, a Paixhan shell gun, landed a shell directly through the main mast of the Japanese ship, shattering it and seriously wounding several dozen sailors on board. How accurate this account is is largely unknown, as the events unfolded so quickly that many witnesses were unable to corroborate a single narrative.

Immediately, the Japanese responded with a full volley of gun and cannon fire, most of which passed by or did minor damage to the Susquehanna and Saratoga. However, several cannonballs tore into the deck of the Mississippi, setting her alight and forcing her to retreat as to avoid further damage. The Susquehanna responded with a full broadside at the nearest Japanese vessel, destroying it in an instant after striking the ship’s small powder storage. Perry gave the orders to fall back, but a cannonball struck the starboard paddle of the Susquehanna, causing her to turn awkwardly and be slowed significantly. Before Perry could fully respond, sailors on deck spotted several small boats on a direct course for the ship.

Ordering marines and sailors on deck, a short firefight took place as bullets fired from both the Susquehanna and the Japanese boats hit dozens of men on both sides. Despite the overwhelming firepower of the Americans, the Japanese vessels continued forward, and three boats filled with armed sailors managed to hold tight to the port side of the Susquehanna and begin offloading men. The initial boarding seemed to be in the American’s favor as ropes and boarding ladders were either cut or broken, causing the Japanese to send only a small trickle of men aboard. However, quickly the Americans were overwhelmed, and a ferocious melee began on board the ship. Perry’s men sought to move him to a lifeboat and try to get him aboard the Saratoga, which itself was repelling boarding attempts. Perry refused, and instead drew his cutlass and revolver, and attempted to join the frey.

It is here where Perry was fatally struck with a bullet to the chest, striking him in the right side and toppling him backwards. To this day, no one is sure where the bullet was fired from, or by who. Though the news of Perry’s injury rippled through the decks of both ships, the sailors and marines continued to fight back the Japanese. For hours, the Americans beat a fighting retreat out of the harbor, and the Japanese defenders finally relented after the arrival of the rest of Perry’s fleet, falling back into the harbor. The Susquehanna finally managed to repel their attackers, and suffered serious losses as a result. The Saratoga was lost after a fire engulfed the ship, forcing the crew to abandon ship, either to be rescued by the Americans or captured by the Japanese.

By the late evening, in a cabin barricaded with furniture and guarded by haggard marines, Perry struggled with his injuries. The bullet had shattered several two ribs, and punctured his lung. Surgeons, trying their best, managed to remove the bullet but were unable to prevent the internal bleeding. Grabbing the wrist of Commander Franklin Buchanan, who had also been wounded by several cuts to his arm and a torn leg muscle, Perry gave his final, apocryphal words.

“I hope God is more merciful to them than America will be.”

At roughly midnight, thousands of miles away from his homeland, and surrounded by his closest officers and compatriots, Commodore Matthew Perry succumbed to his injuries. With his body preserved as best as possible, the fleet steamed away from Japan and towards Shanghai, narrowly avoiding several small patrols that had been sent to try and intercept them. The Mississippi, heavily damaged from the fighting, was eventually scuttled two days into the journey after stresses to the hull caused her to begin taking on water. Arriving in Shanghai five days after departing, information was sent as quickly as possible. Within weeks, European newspapers began relaying the story of Perry’s death and the “Edo Massacre”. With every new print of the story, the number of dead rose, and the stories of the actions of the Japanese became more and more brutal.

Finally reaching Washington D.C. weeks after the arrival of Perry’s fleet, President Franklin Pierce was incensed. An opportunity for economic exploration of the Far East had been lost, alongside one of the brightest and best commanders of the United States Navy. Above all, America had been humiliated. “Ships Lost to Japanese Natives!”, “Perry Murdered by Nipponese[1] Savages!”, “Sailors Massacred!” were among the hundreds of headlines printed across the United States. This, alongside the slavery debate that had begun to rapidly deteriorate over the past few years, dominated the American media and the minds of the average citizen.

In the senate, senator from Michigan Lewis Cass demanded action, gathering the attention of both his allies and opponents. “We cannot allow ourselves to be brought to heel by some eastern monarchy. We cannot allow the deaths of our men, the destruction of our ships, and the tarnishing of our pride be left unanswered!” he shouted, speaking for hours on end, joined by several sympathizers. This display of rage was answered by President Pierce, who agreed with the sentiment and presented a plan to congress. After weeks of deliberation with representatives and military leaders, an emergency session of the senate was convened.

On July 9th, 1853, the United States Senate voted to declare war on the Tokugawa Shogunate on the grounds of the murder of American citizens, and the destruction of military assets. The vote was passed 56-6, with opponents of the decision derided publicly by both fellow senators and the American public at large.

The Japanese-American War had begun.


---


[1] ITL phrase - A misinterpretation of 日本 (Nihon) to "Nippon", usually used as a derisive name for the Japanese
 
A minor edit: I have changed the title to be slightly less vague. The war with Japan will play a major role in this TL, but will not be the entirety of it ;)
 
this is a really good time for alternative war timelines.
the anglo japanese war
wrapped in flames
ect
the tease about grant and lee both being considered as valuable as Washington is very interesting .
I know america is gonna win given the title and all but i hope japan gets some good hits in because we were very racist back then and a good fight against the Japanese might help advance us a bit.
also really curious how the russians and British as the dominant European powers in asia react.
followed!
 
Isn't America's navy in a rather sorry state at this time?
It is, in comparison to the European powers. Largely due to the US not having any significant threats to its sovereignty via ocean, and had just recently slapped the hell out of Mexico. As a result the navy was growing more sluggishly compared to the likes of France, Spain and especially Britain.

However, that is soon to change.
 
Hello! I am Potato Cannon, long time lurker, first time writer. Though I am only mildly versed with US history in the mid 19th century, I find the period fascinating regardless and hope to make a fun and engaging story. A story with twists and turns, academic and personal retellings, and with a lot of eagles and fireworks.

In this tale of alternate history, we turn the clock back to 1853, with the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry in Japan. In our timeline, Perry successfully followed through with the orders given to him by President Millard Filmore to “reopen” Japan, and allow for further diplomatic and economic contact between Japan and the rest of the world. In this timeline, however, tragedy strikes. Rather than peace, an unfortunate series of events leads to the attempted boarding of the USS Susquehanna, and the death of Commodore Perry. The fallout is immediate and the course of history changes forever.

So, without further ado, let us begin our journey into …

The Star Spangled Empire: A History of the United States

---
(Excerpts taken from ‘Disaster in the East - America’s War with Japan’ by Daniel Douglas, Philadelphia International Publishing, 1991)

unknown.png

Commodore Matthew Perry (1794-1853), photographed before the expedition, 1852

Commodore Perry, veteran of the Mexican-American War and ‘father of America’s steam navy’, is a complicated figure in American history. To some, he is seen as a tragic figure in American history whose vision for the future was cut short. To others, he is a martyr for the American dream, a man whose sacrifice sparked the beginning of America’s hegemony. And finally, some see him as little more than a petty imperialist whose death was the perfect excuse for America to try and catch up with the imperial powers in Europe. Regardless of what one considers Perry, he is without a doubt one of the most influential persons in American history, comparable to the likes of Washington, Grant, and Lee. A tenacious commander with a knack for bravado, Perry’s expedition to Japan would prove to be a tumultuous and ultimately bloody endeavor.


(...)

Originally given the orders by US president Millard Fillmore, Commodore Perry’s expedition to the Tokugawa Shogunate was intended to “open” the country, through either diplomacy or force, and allow for more foreign ships and traders to visit Japan. Gathering a small fleet of ships, comprised of the warships Susquehanna, Mississippi and Powhatan, alongside several armed supply ships and a number of light sloops, Perry’s fleet was imposing despite its relatively small size. Setting out from Virginia in late November of 1852, and despite making the arduous journey across the Atlantic Ocean to the Far East, Perry’s trip went relatively smoothly. With the use of paddle driven steamers and more up to date forms of navigation and knowledge of the regions, Perry’s small fleet of ships was able to snake its way across the Indian Ocean and finally into the Pacific. Due to the infancy of American shipbuilding in the recently acquired California, such a long trip was an unfortunate requirement.

USS_Susquehanna2s.JPG

USS Susquehanna, in port in Shanghai, 1853

The first signs of trouble would come in May of the next year, following the arrival of Perry’s ships in the Ryukyu islands. Here, Perry threatened the locals with his warships, stating that he would land with “some of the most ruthless men of the United States Marines” should they refuse to allow him audience with King Shō Tai of the Ryukyus, completely disregarding the claims to the islands made by the Satsuma Domain. Despite his warning, and even the landing of more than 150 Marines on the shore as a show of force, Tai refused to bow to the threats. Knowing that any and all news would be sent to Edo and heard by the Tokugawa government, Perry was ultimately forced to relent. With some of the proverbial wind taken out of his sails, Perry failed to properly negotiate an opening of the Ryukyus, and was forced to continue northwards. Regardless of this, Perry and his men sailed onwards.

Rethinking his strategy, Perry moved to implement “Gunboat Diplomacy”, or the show of military threats to force parties to the negotiating table, in full. With his bluff called by Tai, Perry knew that the time for more peaceful dealings was running out. Finally, on June 22nd of 1853, Perry’s ships steamed their way into the harbor of Edo, specifically Uraga, to begin their negotiations with the Shogun. Knowing of the failure of Captain James Biddle to properly bring the Japanese to the table, Perry moved to press past Japanese watch towers and moved ever closer towards the bay itself. Taking the Susquehanna and Mississippi, as well as the sloop Saratoga, Perry sailed past several Japanese warships that had been sent out to try and force Perry’s ships back out to sea.

With word of the debacle in the Ryukyus nearly a month earlier, the forces of the Shogun had been on high alert for Perry’s ships since. The small number of cannons in possession of the Uraga Bugyō, officials tasked with the defense of the harbor, fired blanks in an attempt to stop Perry’s ships. Finally, three larger vessels sailed within a thousand feet of both port and starboard sides of the Susquehanna. As the ships halted, a small number of boats had departed from their warships, hoping for an audience with Perry and his men. Throughout the afternoon, Perry refused to allow the men to come aboard, and instead demanded that he be given a personal audience with representatives of the Shogun, and eventually the Shogun himself. The Japanese refused, stating that Perry’s actions were “reprehensible” and “barbaric”, and that “such violent threats and actions cannot be rewarded with pomp and circumstance.” A volley of blanks were fired by both shoreline cannons and the lightly armed Japanese warships. By the late afternoon, Perry’s ships had been almost surrounded.

It is here that the beginning of what has been referred to as the “Edo Massacre” starts, and accounts have yet to be cleared. The most common line of thought is that a Japanese sailor, carrying a matchlock firearm, had accidentally loaded his gun with a bullet rather than just powder, which was being used to startle the Americans and force them away. The bullet, traveling several hundred feet and losing significant velocity, nonetheless struck an American sailor in the shoulder right in front of Perry, who was on the deck at the time. Thinking quickly, Perry gave the orders to fire a single round at the Japanese vessel. The cannon, a Paixhan shell gun, landed a shell directly through the main mast of the Japanese ship, shattering it and seriously wounding several dozen sailors on board. How accurate this account is is largely unknown, as the events unfolded so quickly that many witnesses were unable to corroborate a single narrative.

Immediately, the Japanese responded with a full volley of gun and cannon fire, most of which passed by or did minor damage to the Susquehanna and Saratoga. However, several cannonballs tore into the deck of the Mississippi, setting her alight and forcing her to retreat as to avoid further damage. The Susquehanna responded with a full broadside at the nearest Japanese vessel, destroying it in an instant after striking the ship’s small powder storage. Perry gave the orders to fall back, but a cannonball struck the starboard paddle of the Susquehanna, causing her to turn awkwardly and be slowed significantly. Before Perry could fully respond, sailors on deck spotted several small boats on a direct course for the ship.

Ordering marines and sailors on deck, a short firefight took place as bullets fired from both the Susquehanna and the Japanese boats hit dozens of men on both sides. Despite the overwhelming firepower of the Americans, the Japanese vessels continued forward, and three boats filled with armed sailors managed to hold tight to the port side of the Susquehanna and begin offloading men. The initial boarding seemed to be in the American’s favor as ropes and boarding ladders were either cut or broken, causing the Japanese to send only a small trickle of men aboard. However, quickly the Americans were overwhelmed, and a ferocious melee began on board the ship. Perry’s men sought to move him to a lifeboat and try to get him aboard the Saratoga, which itself was repelling boarding attempts. Perry refused, and instead drew his cutlass and revolver, and attempted to join the frey.

It is here where Perry was fatally struck with a bullet to the chest, striking him in the right side and toppling him backwards. To this day, no one is sure where the bullet was fired from, or by who. Though the news of Perry’s injury rippled through the decks of both ships, the sailors and marines continued to fight back the Japanese. For hours, the Americans beat a fighting retreat out of the harbor, and the Japanese defenders finally relented after the arrival of the rest of Perry’s fleet, falling back into the harbor. The Susquehanna finally managed to repel their attackers, and suffered serious losses as a result. The Saratoga was lost after a fire engulfed the ship, forcing the crew to abandon ship, either to be rescued by the Americans or captured by the Japanese.

By the late evening, in a cabin barricaded with furniture and guarded by haggard marines, Perry struggled with his injuries. The bullet had shattered several two ribs, and punctured his lung. Surgeons, trying their best, managed to remove the bullet but were unable to prevent the internal bleeding. Grabbing the wrist of Commander Franklin Buchanan, who had also been wounded by several cuts to his arm and a torn leg muscle, Perry gave his final, apocryphal words.

“I hope God is more merciful to them than America will be.”

At roughly midnight, thousands of miles away from his homeland, and surrounded by his closest officers and compatriots, Commodore Matthew Perry succumbed to his injuries. With his body preserved as best as possible, the fleet steamed away from Japan and towards Shanghai, narrowly avoiding several small patrols that had been sent to try and intercept them. The Mississippi, heavily damaged from the fighting, was eventually scuttled two days into the journey after stresses to the hull caused her to begin taking on water. Arriving in Shanghai five days after departing, information was sent as quickly as possible. Within weeks, European newspapers began relaying the story of Perry’s death and the “Edo Massacre”. With every new print of the story, the number of dead rose, and the stories of the actions of the Japanese became more and more brutal.

Finally reaching Washington D.C. weeks after the arrival of Perry’s fleet, President Franklin Pierce was incensed. An opportunity for economic exploration of the Far East had been lost, alongside one of the brightest and best commanders of the United States Navy. Above all, America had been humiliated. “Ships Lost to Japanese Natives!”, “Perry Murdered by Nipponese[1] Savages!”, “Sailors Massacred!” were among the hundreds of headlines printed across the United States. This, alongside the slavery debate that had begun to rapidly deteriorate over the past few years, dominated the American media and the minds of the average citizen.

In the senate, senator from Michigan Lewis Cass demanded action, gathering the attention of both his allies and opponents. “We cannot allow ourselves to be brought to heel by some eastern monarchy. We cannot allow the deaths of our men, the destruction of our ships, and the tarnishing of our pride be left unanswered!” he shouted, speaking for hours on end, joined by several sympathizers. This display of rage was answered by President Pierce, who agreed with the sentiment and presented a plan to congress. After weeks of deliberation with representatives and military leaders, an emergency session of the senate was convened.

On July 9th, 1853, the United States Senate voted to declare war on the Tokugawa Shogunate on the grounds of the murder of American citizens, and the destruction of military assets. The vote was passed 56-6, with opponents of the decision derided publicly by both fellow senators and the American public at large.

The Japanese-American War had begun.


---


[1] ITL phrase - A misinterpretation of 日本 (Nihon) to "Nippon", usually used as a derisive name for the Japanese
I will be watching this timeline
 
Now this is interesting i wonder how will this affect the us civil wars (if it happens anyway)
 
Last edited:
Now this is interesting i wonder how will this affect the us civil wars (if it happens anyway)
Probably delay it a bit at minimum. I just wonder if it will inspire some, such as Lee based on what I inferred, to stick with the Union instead of the CSA if/when the Civil War breaks out.
 
Probably delay it a bit at minimum. I just wonder if it will inspire some, such as Lee based on what I inferred, to stick with the Union instead of the CSA if/when the Civil War breaks out.
Well will there be fighting in japan too? Because i think the us gonna occupy some island/lands i bet
 
Well will there be fighting in japan too? Because i think the us gonna occupy some island/lands i bet
As in the Civil War affecting occupation in Japan? I doubt it simply from a self-preservation standpoint and the fact the occupying troops would be getting news weeks to months after the fact.
 
As in the Civil War affecting occupation in Japan? I doubt it simply from a self-preservation standpoint and the fact the occupying troops would be getting news weeks to months after the fact.
I wonder will the ocupying force support the union or the confederacy
 
Interesting side-thing:
Yankee Doodle Dandee was used as an American naval song in this time period. IRL it became a hand clapping song for children.
ITTL it might become something bigger.
 

dcharleos

Donor
Interesting side-thing:
Yankee Doodle Dandee was used as an American naval song in this time period. IRL it became a hand clapping song for children.
ITTL it might become something bigger.

Not sure I understand. It's one of the most recognizable songs in the English language OTL. How could it be bigger than it already is?
 

dcharleos

Donor
Generally, I'm not a huge fan of "American Empire" TLs.

But this is an interesting PoD, your writing is clear and engaging, and this is well researched and thought out. That always adds up to a sub in my book.
 
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