Association to Commemorate the Chinese Serving in the American Civil War


This is an electronic Monument built by our group to commemorate the Chinese serving in the American Civil War. We would like to honor the Chinese people who fought for freedom for their host, in this new country, the United States of America. Not too many people knew that the Chinese had served in the American Civil War, and we would like to spread this message across the Continents and pay respect to their participation.

Many people have contributed to this effort. This website collects writings from various writers and researchers on the subject. Credit is given to all contributors, no matter the contribution is large or small. Credit will be given where credit is due.

The goal of this website is to spread the news that the Chinese people did serve in the American Civil War. Please feel free to send the web address to your friends.



The historic perspective on people who contributed to research and publishing on Chinese serving in the American Civil War are shown as follows.

Around 1993, Australian researcher Terry Foenander started to collect information on Chinese serving in the Civil War. I found records showing that he contacted National Park Service in Gettysburg either asking or verifying such information, while I was doing my research. I do not know whether he published his findings or not, in between 1993 and 1998. But I know recently, Mr. Foenander had a website on Asians participating in the American Civil War, which I put a link at the bottom of this page.

Another pioneer who had published the fact that there were Chinese serving in the American Civil War was Ruthann Lum McCunn, in her article, "Chinese in the Civil War," printed in a Journal, Chinese America: History and Perspectives, in 1996.

During 1997 to 1998, I was interested to find out whether there were people of my heritage, Chinese, participated in the War. To my satisfaction, my independent research bore some fruits. With the information I gathered, I wrote a short article on the subject and printed it in May 1998, in the Newsletter (The Campaign) of the Olde Colony Civil War Round Table which I belong to. At that time, I was not aware of anyone else doing research on the subject, except Mr. Foenander. I only discovered it after Dec 1998, when I read the North and South magazine, announcing a future publication on an article featuring Chinese in the Civil War.

Dr. Thomas P. Lowry did research on Chinese fighting the Civil War in the Army, and met Edward S. Milligan doing research on Chinese fighting the Civil War in the Navy, in the National Archives. They joined force, and in April 1999, printed their jointly written article in the North and South Magazine. They also announced their findings in their Press Conference, in May 1999.

In around Summer and Fall of 1999, Civil War News (newspaper) reported and summarized Dr. Lowry and Mr. Milligan's findings.

If the readers knew anyone else who had contributed in this area but not being credited, please inform the Webmaster so that correction and acknowledgement could be made.


Research Project: Chinese serving in the American Civil War

Written by Gordon Kwok, in May 1998

Research Project: Chinese fighting in the American Civil War

Acknowledgment: I would like to thank the following people in helping my research: D. Scott Hartwig, NPS Supervisory Park Historian in Gettysburg, for gathering the documents; President of the Olde Colony Civil War Round Table, Dave Kenney and Louise Kenney, for advocating on my behalf; '97 Research Chairman Joe Geden for his leads; Bob Hearsey for the photograph; Research Fellows Bill Hickey, David Finlay, Jack Zeletsky, Chuck Fazio and Larry Bryant for their encouragement and support. Special thanks to Dudley W. Letson III, the first person who made me aware of Chinese fighting in the American Civil War.

After reading many Civil War books and articles, I hardly come across with this subject. I am interested in this question and wonder whether there were people of my heritage fighting in this war. This curiosity motivated me to search for an answer, and with the help of the above friends from the Olde Colony Civil War Round Table, I managed to gather bits and pieces of data and re-created a few composite sketches.

Picture shown above. The picture of Joseph Pierce in Union uniform. Courtesy of the owner of the picture,
Michael J. McAfee, Senior Editor of the Military Images magazine and Curator of the Museum of United States
Military Academy, and courtesy of Philip Katcher, Senior Book Review Editor of the Military Images magazine.
Photo credit also goes to Irving Moy.

Picture Shown above: Joseph Pierce. Copy of the original picture of Joseph Pierce in Oval picture frame,
published in History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, by Charles D. Page,
(Boston, 1906.), on the Chapter named "The March from Falmouth to Gettysburg" page 131.
Photo credit also goes to Irving Moy.
Union soldiers of Chinese heritage definitely fought in Gettysburg. Private Joseph Pierce, age 21 when enlisted, height 5 feet 5 inches, with dark hair and black eyes, was born in the city of Canton, Kwangtung Province, China. His occupation was a farmer. He enlisted for 3 years of military service, in the 14th Connecticut regiment (infantry) in New Britain, Connecticut on July 26, 1861. He was promoted to Corporal in November 1, 1863. The regimental historian Stewart stated that during Pickett's charge, Pierce appeared "pig-tail and all, the only Chinese in the Army of the Potomac." (Page 56)

Later, I found out there were more than one Chinese in the Army of the Potomac. All male Chinese at that time wore this kind of hairstyle, in the Manchu Dynasty. The muster roll record showed that Pierce stayed in the Convalescent Camp in Virginia in January 1863. Record showed he received payment from the Army on March 1, 1864. Pierce apparently also served as a cook in the Army and he survived the fighting in this war. 

Corporal John Tommy served in Company D, 70th New York regiment (New York at Gettysburg, vol. I, p. 219), was a native of China. John Tommy lost both arms and both legs on July 2, 1863, at the battle of Gettsburg and died of his wounds in October 19, 1863. He suffered 3 months and 17 days in agony. Report showed that he was a good and brave soldier.

Antonio Dardell was taken at a very early age from China and raised by a sea captain. His pension record showed that he enlisted as a private in October 22, 1862 and joined Company A, 27th Connecticut Infantry, fighting in the Civil War, and was honorably discharged at New Haven, Connecticut on August 25, 1863. Dardell was 5 feet 9 inches tall, with dark complexion, black hair and black eyes. His occupation was a tinner (tinsmith). He lived in Clinton and later moved to New Haven in 1869. He got his pension at age 68, on May 23, 1912.

National Park Service Park Historian D. Scott Hartwig also sent me copies of two letters written by researcher Terry Foenander from Australia on China-born soldiers in the Army of the Potomac. It was not able to determine whether they were actually Chinese, 

Civil War Author Burke Davis mentioned that Chinese soldiers enlisted with the Louisiana Avegno Zouaves in the Confederate army (Burke Davis, Civil War: Strange and Fascinating Facts {Random House, 1960). The busy city New Orleans attracted many foreign nationals, including the Chinese, who went ashore searching for opportunities and were "invited" to join the unit for fun and game. This would be a future project for me to continue the research on these Chinese soldiers and find out what happen to them.


The context of the historic background

In order to understand how and why some Chinese ended up serving in the American Civil War (ACW), I would like to shed some light by outlining their migration and historical context of their contemporaries.

The Chinese first contacted America in the Manila galleon trade, the Canton-Manila-Acapulco silk sea-route. Chinese and Filipino sailors were employed to transport cargoes of Chinese luxury goods in the Manila galleons to Acapulco, Mexico, from 1565 to 1815. The Spanish also brought Chinese shipbuilders to BaJa California in 1571. At that time, Manila, Philippine, Acapulco and BaJa California were Spanish colonies. By the 16th century, some Filipinos settled in Acapulco. In the 17th century, some Chinese became small store-owners in Mexico City. Some how, they migrated to New Orleans, and the Manilamen settled in the bayou of Louisiana's Barataria Bay, about thirty miles south of New Orleans around 1760. Of course, they were the descendants of the sailors of the Manila galleons. This historical fact tied in with author Burke Davis writing about Chinese serving in the "Avegno Zouaves" Company I, 14th Louisiana Infantry. They could expected be mixed-blooded. They could have Spanish/Chinese last names.

"The first Asians to live in Mexico were native Filipinos. Many Filipino seamen permanently stayed in Acapulco during the galleon trade and married local women. A few Chinese from Manila later followed.

Among the many Philippine-born Asian enlistees during the American Civil War (1861-1865) were Caystana Baltazar, Antonio Ducastin, Manual Santos and Leon Zapanta.

Barataria Bay settlements in Louisiana were founded by Filipinos from Mexico in 1762. These "Luzon Indios" pioneered America's dried shrimp industry and also joined Jean Lafitte in fighting the British in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Among the recorded settlements were San (St.) Malo , (a lacustrine village, which was destroyed in 1965 by Hurracane Betsy). Lafcadio Hearn wrote in the March 31, 1883 issue of the New York-based Harper's Weekly an account on Filipino-Americans who intermarried with Creoles and local Cajuns."

My friend Edward Milligan did help me out and track the "Avegno Zouaves" of the Louisiana Infantry in the National Archives. Those Zouaves companies started as companies of the Governor's Guard. They were combined into a battalion and then put in a Regiment. That means the researcher has to scan the reels of that Regiment to see if there is anything that hints of chinese ancestry. Given the lack of personal information in Confederate records, that seems a long shot at best. There is an article written by a company commander. He said there were Chinese in the unit (which Burke Davis relied on in his writing). But unfortunately the only names he gives are Irishmen. So it goes. The webmaster thinks that this is still a very valuable piece of information. It only shows that no confirmation of individual Chinese names, but not no Chinese serving in that unit. 

The silk and porcelain (china) trade brought Westerners in contact with the Chinese. Canton (Kwangchow), of Kwangtung province, became the center of foreign trade, in 1760. England led the western powers in "opening" China to trade. The Treaty of Nanking, after the Opium War (1839-42) opened five ports for commerce. Hong Kong (fragrant harbor) was ceded to the British. Extraterritorial laws were enforced. An indemnity of 21 million silver dollars was imposed. Taxes soared. Local cottage industry could not compete with imported manufactured goods. The result was disastrous to local economy. Furthermore, the Treaty of Tienjin added more indemnity and land Kowloon (nine dragons) to the English. The British and French occupied Canton between 1856 to 1860 and their presence made it easier to recruit peasant boys abroad as cheap labor. Christian missionaries engaged in preaching the gospels enthusiastically. It was under these circumstances that some missionaries and some sea captains "adopted" some small Chinese boys and raised them in North America. This was how the Chinese, boys Joseph Pierce, Antonio Dardelle, Edward Day Cohota and Hong Neok Woo ended up staying in America and served in the Civil War.

Several Chinese artisans were brought by a British sea captain to build ships in Nootka Sound in British Columbia and arrive in Hawaii en route. Westerners took the abundant sandalwood from Hawaii and sold them in China. The Chinese called Hawaii, Tan-heung-san, "Sandalwood Mountains." In 1830s, several Chinese "sugar masters" worked and settled in Hawaii. Around the same time, some Chinese sailors and peddlers showed up in New York City. This was how John Tommy showed up in New York City in 1861. In 1835, Americans established first sugar plantation in Hawaii. In 1852, about 200 contract laborers from Amoy, Fujian, were imported to Tan-heung-san. The arrangement of the contract laborers was known as Mai Ju Jai (selling little pigs). In 1848, gold was discovered in California. In 1851, Chinese in San Francisco established self-help associations, Sam Yup ("three Districts" of Kwangtung Province) and Sze Yup ("four Districts" of Kwangtung Province) associations. San Francisco is known as Gao-gum-san (Old Gold Mountains). In 1852, about 20,000 Chinese entered California and some came from Hawaii. By 1858, a lot more arrived. I mentioned these background stories just to indicate the likelihood there were Chinese serving in the Californian Army during the Civil War. Union Brigadier General George Wright commanded the Pacific Department headquartered in San Francisco. Wright's subordinate, Colonel James H. Carlton, a veteran dragoon officer, originally from Maine, later in the summer of 1862, would lead an expeditionary brigade of California volunteers from Fort Yuma, through Tucson to New Mexico, along the old Butterfield route on the Gadsden Purchase, to help Col. (and later Brig.Gen.) Canby to drive the Confederate Henry Hopkins Sibley's force away from New Mexico. I hope I could find one or two Chinese serving in that Army,  Further research by combing throughI  the muster roll and pension record yielded nothing. 

The Chinese Civil War (CCW), the Tai Ping (meaning Peace) Rebellion (1850 to 1864) was raging furiously overlapping the struggle of the American Civil War (ACW) (1861 to 1865). Again, it was the influence of the Western Missionary that introduced a slogan for the rebels, who were establishing a Tai Ping Tin Kwok (the Kingdom of Heavenly Peace). The leader was HUNG Sau Chuen. In the CCW, the rebels gained the upper hand. They expanded and occupied the southern half of China, but they stopped and did not go all the way to complete their job. The rebels started to settle down to enjoy the luxury lives. This gave the Government a breathing pace to recover from the shock and a chance to re-organize a counter attack. The internal power struggle split the strength of the rebels and, corruption and waste dulled their motivation. The Government Army, led by TSANG Kwok Faun, counter-attacked and smashed the rebellion. In the CCW, 20 million people lost their lives, whereas in the ACW, only 600,000+ soldiers died. When the Confederates surrendered, they dropped their weapons and went home to start their lives anew. When the Chinese rebels surrendered, their heads were chopped off by the Manchu Dynasty. No forgiveness was rendered. So, the ACW is quite "mild" in comparison. It was in this context that the Ching Government ordered a fast cutter, named "Dai Ching" (Great Manchu) from the U.S. to suppress the rebels. The Union kept the cutter for their own Anaconda Plan.

In the "Introduction" of his book, "The Civil War in the American West," author Alvin M. Josephy, Jr. mentioned the Asians and Chinese participating in the American Civil War. I would like to quote his words.

"On the other hand, the western states themselves and their modern-day diverse and growing populations have been denied a just measure of recognition of their own Civil War legacy ----- in many cases, a direct heritage from ancestors ---- white, black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American ---- who fought and died in the West, sometimes on their own homelands, during the years of the war. The West, in truth, was a very stormy part of the nation during the Civil War, a tumultuous area in constant motion and conflict. Then, as now, it was a land of ethnic and cultural pluralism, of stark contrasts and challenges that encouraged tension and combativeness. Sectional traditions, values, and backgrounds differentiated the views of those who still had roots and families in the Northern or Southern states from which they or their parents had originally come. In many parts of the West, also, were recently arrived foreign-born immigrants ---- Irish, Germans, Scandinavians, Chinese, and others ---- and across the Southwest were thousands of long established Hispanos who only thirteen years before the outbreak of the war had been nationals of Mexico and in 1861 were still trying to learn a few words of English."

Did the Chinese contributed to the American Civil War? Food preserved by canning was not quite popular in America around 1850 because of the high cost of packaging. When Civil war came along, the soldiers got tired to eat salted pork/beef. Canned food suddenly became very popular with the rank and file. In 1864, City Point, Virginia was a humming city with many transport ships docked with all kind of goods, including can goods, which were transported by rail to the Petersburg line. The cans were made from tin. Where did the tin come from? It came from the tin mines of Malaya (Malaysia): to be exact, the tin mine in Kinta Valley near Ipoh, Malaya, and another one near Kuala Lumpur, the capital. The miners were contract laborers from China, mostly Cantonese and Fujianese. Of course it is well known that Chinese invented gunpowder (for firing guns and cannons), compass (finding direction), paper and ink (writing dispatches) about 2 or 3 thousand years ago.


Sucheng Chan, "Asian Americans" Twayne Publishers 1991, Alvin M. Josephy, Jr.'s "The Civil War in the American West." First Vintage Civil War Library Edition, 1993.  



Supplementary writings on Manilamen and the Spanish Galleon trade

During the 16th century, Spain had colony in the Far East, the Philippines, New Spain in the west coast of North America and Central America. Starting in 1565, Spain sent a ship once a year from Philippines to Mexico City, the capital of New Spain, making use of the prevailing clockwise currents and winds, known as "Kuroshiro" current. (The webmaster learned this term from a History of Chinese Junks Exhibit, on a recent visit to Monterey, California.) The Galleon transported directives, letters, payrolls, Chinese silks, porcelains and jewelry from Asia for Peruvian and Mexican gold and silver. Filipinos sailors, including some with Chinese ancestry, boarded the Galleon to New Spain. On their return voyage, the Galleon generally sailed from Acapulco in summer, finding the prevailing trade winds to carry them back. It took a surprisingly short time of about two months to be back. The Spanish Galleon was modelled after the Chinese Junk, weighing more than 1,500 tons, about 7 times heavier than the Columbus / Magellan 200 tons ship. The Spanish Manila Galleons, known as naos de China, or, China Ships, were designed and builted by the Chinese shipbuilders in Manila, and crewed partly by Chinese sailors. {Sandy Lydon, Chinese Gold ---- the Chinese in the Monterey Bay Region, Capitola Book Company, 1985}

The Spanish also brought Chinese shipbuilders to BaJa California in 1571 to provide maintainence to their galleon. We might ask the question, why did the Spanish take the Chinese shipbuilders? Let's pause and take a look at the Chinese Maritime history. During the 14th and 15th century, the Chinese Ming Dynastry sent Cheng Ho (Cheng Wor) and his fleet of ships to the Southern Ocean (Nam Yeung). The Fleet sailed as far as Madagasca, visiting the countries along their way. Each ship weighed about 1,500 tons, about 7 times heavier than the European ship. So the Chinese had the advance Maritime technology in ship-building and therefore, the Chinese were sent to New Spain.

Quoting Sandy Lydon, Chinese Gold ---- the Chinese in the Monterey Bay Region, Capitola Book Company, 1985, pp. 19, second paragraph. "A large number of Chinese merchants had found their way to Mexico via the galleons, and over the years they had taken the necessary steps to become citizens of New Spain, taking Spanish names and marrying local women. When the colonial system spread north to Alta California after 1769, some of the 'Spanish' who came north were, in fact, ethnic Chinese or Spaniah Chinos. --------" A group moved from Mexico to New Orleans and settled there.

By Gordon Kwok



Chinese population in California, 1860.

(Acknowledgment: The webmaster is deeply indebted to the generosity of the Editor, Him Mark Lai, for granting permission to reference these material on his research, from his book, "A History of the Chinese in California, A Syllabus, (c) 1969" Credit also attributed to the Publisher, the Chinese Historical Society of America, and to the other editors, Thomas W. Chinn and Philip P. Choy.)

(Please noted that these statistics shown are referring to the Chinese in the State of California only, but not in other States.)

While researching the Chinese serving in the American Civil War, a thought flashed across my mind on a very basic question. Could the Chinese population reasonably sustain such a number of people serving the war? In order words, I asked myself the question: when compared the number of veterans serving in the war, with the total known Chinese population living in the United States, were the numbers reflected a reasonable proportion? It dawned on me to look at some statistics. Fortunately, Califoria kept its population statistics, and thanks to the nice people in California, especially the dedicated bunch of Historians in the Chinese Historical Society of America, who did great work in preserving the history of Chinese living in America. I also had the previlege, honor and pleasure to meet Historian Him Mark Lai, who graciously permit me to use this portion of his research.

Immigration and Internal Migration

American authorities estimated that there were 54 Chinese in the United Sstates in February 1849. This number was increased more than ten-fold to 789 by January 1850, and rapidly grew to 4,025 in 1850. {Mary Roberts Coolidge, Chinese Immigration (Taipei, 1968), p.21.}

As the news of the discovery of gold, and high wages earned by laborers, spread among the peasantry about the Canton River Delta in China, many were tempted to try to improve their lot in the Golden Hills, as California was referred to among the Cantonese. (Later this became the "Old Golden Hills" to distinguish it from the New Golden Hills ---- the gold fields discovered in Australiain the 1850's).

Internal turmoil (the Tai Ping Rebellion) and economic instability in China provided the added impetus for many to emigrate. Thus the immigration into California in 1851 was six times that in 1850, but it was in 1852 that the great influx occurred, with 20,026, 7.3 times the figures for the previous year, disembarking at San Francisco.

This led the Picayune of San Francisco to remark in its issue of April 17, 1852: "In China, the California fever seems to have reached an unprecedented height, and the long tailed and curious denizens of that strange world evinced as great eagerness to reach our magic land as ever exhibited by ----- our own countrymen ----- from the Eastern United States. They are flocking in upon us by the hundreds, every ship arriving from thence, bringing from one hundred and fifty upwards."

During the 1860's the Chinese population of California was more or less stablized at approximately 50,000. {Soule, Gihon, Nisbet, The Annuals of San Francisco (1854), pp. 287-288.}

In the 1850's and 1860's the Chinese population in the United States was concentrated almost entirely in California with approximately 80 per cent of these in the mining areas. In 1860, the Chinese were approximately 10 per cent of the population in California.

The followings are the cummulative numbers of Chinese in California estimated by American Authorities. {Computed on the basis of Custom House figures minus deaths at 2% per year.}

1820-30: 3
1830-40: 11
1848: 14
1849: 339
1850: 789
1851: 7,370
1852: 25,116
1853: 24,466
1854: 37,447
1855: 36,557
1856: 37,569
1857: 40,730
1858: 42,743
1859: 42,599
1860: 46,897
1861: 50,703
1862: 54,975
1863: 57,294
1864: 54,958
1865: 54,642



Civil War Web Site Review

Civil War on the Internet, reviewed by Dave Smith, Civil War News Newspaper

Civil War on the Internet by Dave Smith
The May 2001 issue of the Civil War News Newspaper

(Featuring the web sites of Leah Berkowitz and Gordon Kwok)

Welcome to another month of reviewed Civil War Internet web sites at the Civil War News. If you have a site you would like to see reviewed in a future column, feel free to email me at the Internet address below. We ought to call this month's column "Minority Groups in the Civil War."

(Our first site comes to us from Leah Berkowitz, and highlights Jews in the Civil War.)


Chinese in the Civil War

Our second Web site comes to us courtesy of Gordon Kwok, Webmaster of the Association to Commemorate the Chinese Serving in the American Civil War. Located at http://hometown.aol.com/gordonkwok/accsacw.html, the site commemorates the importance of the participation of those of Chinese descent who fought in the Civil War. A native of Hong Kong, Gordon came to the United States to study, became an American citizen, and developed an interest in the Civil War.

"Some members from my Round Table told me that there were Chinese who served in the Civil War. I started doing research, and found a lack of literature on the subject," he said. Like many of those we have interviewed over the last several years, the very existence of the site brought Gordon into contact with others sharing a similar interest, which brought him additional information and material for the site.

Gordon's site is a little over a year old. His biggest challenge, he notes, is the lack of primary material documenting Chinese participation in the Civil War. "Even with thousands and thousands of Civil War books, few give anything near a comprehensive presentation on the subject. The challenge is to find them. It is especially difficult since I have a day job, and don't live near the National Achieves."

Few would argue that Gordon's site, and that of Leah Berkowitz, suffer from a lack of uniqueness. Gordon challenges those with an interest in a particular obscure topic on the Civil War to go ahead and put up a Web site. "Just do it," he said, "and don't worry about other people's reactions to the site. Everything will fall into the proper places."

Gordon also serves as Webmaster for the Olde Colony Civil War Round Table, and maintains a comprehensive list of Civil War Round Table Web sites.
Webmaster's other Civil War web sites
Olde Colony Civil War Round Table
A List of Civil War Round Table web sites
My Civil War Essays


All rights reserved.


Webmaster and author: Gordon Kwok, webmaster
email address: gordoncwrt@gmail.com 

January 1, 2000
Revised December 21, 2000

Revised January 18, 2009

Uploaded in the new Google server, January 18, 2009 



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