Monday, December 15, 2008

Chinese in the American Civil War

I have just finished re-reading Yung Wing's 1909 classic My Life in China and America for a review. It's just been republished after a long absence. Yung Wing was one of the first Chinese to attend an American university (Yale) but he returned to China to work for the government over many years on labour rights, China's defence, legal and customs issues and improving education.

What I'd forgotten was that while briefly back in America during the Civil War he had tried to enlist in the Union Army. They didn't take him as he was on Chinese government business and told him he'd be more use completing that business and generating work for northern factories than fighting. Still, it aroused a brief curiosity in me as to how many Chinese fought in the American Civil War?

It's apparently hard to determine as many took english names and race was not always recorded in the Union army's records. However, Civil War researchers seem to think that about 50 Chinese fought in the Civil War for the Union side (not including those in the US Navy). Some apparently also fought for the Confederacy but are even less well researched.

One Union soldier was Edward Day Cohota, a Chinese boy adopted by an American sea captain, who joined the 23rd Massachusetts Infantry, fought in the Battle of Drury's Bluff near Richmond in 1864, and got"seven bullet holes thru" his clothes. At the Battle of Cold Harbor, a Confederate Minie ball parted Cohota's hair permanently, but he was survived the War unhurt. He stayed in the Army for 30 years serving in the Dakota Territory but was never given citizenship thanks to the racist Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Pvt. Joseph L. Pierce, another adopted Chinese, served with the 14th Connecticut Infantry. He is described in the records as 5 feet 5 inches, dark complexion with dark hair and black eyes. His birthplace was Canton in Kwangtung Province, China. He certainly fought in the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863.

Cpl. John Tommy, of Company D, 70th New York Infantry, fought with III Corps. Tommy also was Chinese and from Canton. He lost both arms and legs during the fighting around the Peach Orchard and died in the hospital in1863. Yet another, Antonio Dardell, fought with Union troops at Gettysburg (left).

Don't know if anyone's done a serious study on this - sounds like a good book to me.

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