From USNA Virtual Memorial Hall

Hugh McKee '66

Date of birth: April 23, 1844

Date of death: June 11, 1871

Age: 27

Naval Academy Register

Hugh Wilson McKee was admitted to the Naval Academy from Kentucky on September 25, 1861 at age 17 years 5 months.

Biography & Loss

"Photograph taken on board USS Colorado (1858-1885) in June 1871, shortly before his death in combat with Korean forces on 11 June."

From Wikipedia:

McKee was born in Lexington, Kentucky to a military family. His father, William R. McKee, was a US Army colonel who had been killed in action commanding the Second Kentucky Regiment in the Battle of Buena Vista during the Mexican–American War.

Hugh McKee was appointed to the Naval Academy 25 September 1861 and graduated in 1866. His early duty stations included service in the Practice Squadron and aboard the USS Rhode Island, flagship of the North Atlantic Squadron. In 1867-1869, he was assigned to the steam frigate Franklin and steam sloop of war Ticonderoga, both operating in European waters. McKee was promoted to ensign in March 1868.

McKee had attained the rank of lieutenant by March 1870, and was serving in the Asiatic Squadron as an officer of the USS Colorado. He was mortally wounded 11 June 1871, while leading a company of bluejackets over the walls of a Korean fort on Ganghwa Island close by the Inchon beaches during the United States expedition to Korea. Fifteen sailors and Marines received the Medal of Honor for their actions during the battle including William F. Lukes, Alexander McKenzie, Samuel F. Rogers, and William Troy, who attempted to save McKee, as well as Frederick Franklin, who assumed command of McKee's company until relieved.

McKee died on board the USS Monocacy at 5:45 p.m. that afternoon and his body was sent to his ship, the Colorado, the next day. His remains were later sent to Shanghai and from there to the United States. He was interred at Lexington Cemetery. He never married and had no descendants.

Hugh is buried in Kentucky.

He is listed on the killed in action panel in the front of Memorial Hall under the heading "Korea Expedition 1871."


From records of the US Naval Academy Graduates’ Association:

Hugh Wilson McKee was born, April 23, 1844, at Lexington, Kentucky, the son of Colonel William R. McKee, who fell at Buena Vista while leading his regiment (the Second Kentucky) in the memorable charge under Colonel May.

McKee exhibited, early in his professional life, traits of personal bearing and of character which made him a favorite among men and indicated success and distinction in his career. He was above medium height, straight and compact in figure, of noble and pleasing countenance. His duties were discharged with superior intelligence and sound judgment, with promptitude and exactness, with self-possession and decision. He had in a high degree the quality of command which inspires men with confidence in their leader. But he was even more happy in the relation of friend and comrade. No man in the Navy attracted a larger share of the affection of those with whom he served. His character as an officer commanded the respect of all, and his genial and generous spirit left none untouched who came within the charm of his presence. His death brought to his comrades life-long grief and regret, and by it the Navy and the country lost the bright promise of a useful life.

In the assault upon the principal Corean fort McKee showed an intrepid spirit. The assaulting force, of which he commanded a company, was formed about 150 yards distant from the fort, under shelter of the Monocacy’s fire. The citadel about to be assaulted, the key to the defenses upon the point below, was built upon the apex of a conical hill, about 150 feet from the bottom of the ravine through which our men had to pass in order to reach it. While waiting, McKee kept, with sword drawn, in advance of his company line. An officer remonstrated with him and begged him to go in with his company and not ahead of it. McKee replied, “I will be the first man in that fort!” The order to charge was given, and our men rushed down the slope and up the opposite hill. McKee leaped into the fort and received in his body the first fire of the enemy. The officer who had so kindly urged him to take the chances with his men followed him closely and found McKee, already pierced by the charge of a jingal, struggling forward and fighting desperately, sword in hand. The blood of the son, like that of the sire, was poured for his country upon a foreign soil.

His brother officers of the Asiatic Squadron placed in the chapel of the Naval Academy a tablet which records his heroic death. The mortal remains of McKee rest in his native State. P. F. HARRINGTON


1866 McKee 2.jpg

From the Naval History and Heritage Command:

Midshipman, 25 September, 1861. Graduated June, 1866. Ensign, 12 March, 1868. Master, 26 March, 1869. Lieutenant, 21 March, 1870. Killed in attack upon Corea, Japan, 11 June, 1871.


Three ships were named in honor of Hugh:

Navy Directories & Officer Registers

The "Register of Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy and Marine Corps" was published annually from 1815 through at least the 1970s; it provided rank, command or station, and occasionally billet until the beginning of World War II when command/station was no longer included. Scanned copies were reviewed and data entered from the mid-1840s through 1922, when more-frequent Navy Directories were available.

The Navy Directory was a publication that provided information on the command, billet, and rank of every active and retired naval officer. Single editions have been found online from January 1915 and March 1918, and then from three to six editions per year from 1923 through 1940; the final edition is from April 1941.

The entries in both series of documents are sometimes cryptic and confusing. They are often inconsistent, even within an edition, with the name of commands; this is especially true for aviation squadrons in the 1920s and early 1930s.

Alumni listed at the same command may or may not have had significant interactions; they could have shared a stateroom or workspace, stood many hours of watch together… or, especially at the larger commands, they might not have known each other at all. The information provides the opportunity to draw connections that are otherwise invisible, though, and gives a fuller view of the professional experiences of these alumni in Memorial Hall.

July 1867

Midshipman, Franklin

Others at this command:

July 1868

Ensign, Franklin

Others at this command:

January 1869

Ensign, Ticonderoga

July 1870

Lieutenant, Colorado

Others at this command:

January 1871

Lieutenant, Colorado

Others at this command:

Class of 1866

Hugh is one of 5 members of the Class of 1866 on Virtual Memorial Hall.

The "category" links below lead to lists of related Honorees; use them to explore further the service and sacrifice of the alumni in Memorial Hall.