Many people would be surprised to know that there were some Asian faces in the crowds of white and black soldiers serving in the American Civil War.Hyphen Magazine shared the VOA link on facebook. They are also doing a feature this month on unsung Asian American heroes.
The participation of Asians, and in particular Chinese Americans, comes into focus this month as the United States marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the war.
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Even though there were only about 200 Chinese-Americans living in the eastern United States at the time, 58 of them fought in the Civil War. Because of their previous experiences at sea, many of them served in the U.S. Navy.
Only one Chinese-American soldier was actually born on American soil. The rest had come to the U.S. through the Pacific slave trade, adoption by Americans, independent immigration or the influence of missionaries.
Author Ruthanne Lum McCunn, an expert on Chinese-American history, says three Chinese-Americans rose to the rank of corporal in all-white units. “This might not seem like much but if you look at the way the armed services were operating at that time, it actually was significant,” she said.
Corporal Joseph Pierce, who as a child was brought to the United States from China by his adoptive father, fought in several major campaigns of the war including Antietam and Gettysburg. He was honored by having his picture displayed at the Gettysburg Museum.
“It is also important to remember that not all the Chinese who fought in the Civil War fought for the Union,” McCunn said. “At least five have been identified as fighting for the Confederacy,” she pointed out.
Two of these, Christopher and Stephen Bunker, were children of Siamese twins Chang and Eng, who had been brought to the U.S. to appear in the Barnum and Bailey Circus. The twins, of Chinese heritage, became prosperous, slave-owning farmers in North Carolina. It was not surprising, therefore, that their sons should fight for the South.
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