Irving Moy did a lot of research on Joseph Pierce, and his 100 pages of work impressed me tremendously. He is also very gracious to allow me reprint his essay on my web site, for which I am really grateful of his generosity.
The following is the list of documentations he has researched:
2 Correspondences with National Park Service on Chinese in the Civil War
Irving Moy holds a A.B., a M.Arch. (Architecture) and a M.A. in guidance and counseling, from Washington University in St Louis and Fairfield University in Connecticut. He is the Corporate Director of Facilities Management and Engineering for Masonic Geriatric Health Care Center in Wallingford, CT. He is a student of history with an avid interest in Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War era. He will be re-enacting the role of Joseph Pierce for the 14th Regiment Connecticut Voluntary Infantry, the regiment that he served in. The purpose of his re-enacting has more to do with taking part in the living history and classroom presentations so that Irving can educate others about the Chinese's role in American History, the Civil War Era.
The Foreword is written by the webmaster
After the Union Army under General Irvin McDowell was soundly defeated at Bull Run on July 21, 1861 by Confederate forces commanded by Pierre G. T. Beauregard, President Abraham Lincoln, despite demands now to consider abandoning the entire struggle to preserve the Union, places in motion orders to strengthen the naval blockade and for the enlistment of 100,000 additional troops to serve for three years. With the rebuilding of the shattered Union Army by these enlistments, expeditions could then be launched into Virginia, into the loyal area of east Tennessee and down the Mississippi River. The Federal government in Washington no longer believed this would be a ninety day war. The pagentry, patriotic ardor and romance associated with a short war fought by 75,000 militia men from the various states and territories gave way to the sobering fact that "a real war lay ahead.
On July 26, 1862, at an enlistment post in New Britain, Connecticut, a recruit with black eyes, dark hair and complexion stands before Theodore G. Ellis, Mustering Officer ---------
"Name?" ------------------------------ "Joseph Pierce"
Joseph Pierce was believed to have been the only "Chinaman" to have fought with the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War. In 1852 at age ten, he was sold by his father for the price of six dollars to Amos Peck, a sea captain. During the two month voyage from Canton, China to Hartford, Connecticut, he was nicknamed "Joe" by the ship's crew. He was given the surname of "Pierce" after President Franklin Pierce by Amos Peck. Though he was technically a slave, he grew up as a family member in the Peck household.
Eleven years laters on July 26, 1862, he enlisted and was mustered into the Fourteenth Regiment, Company F of the Connecticut Volunteer Infantry that became part of the Second Brigade of the Third Division, Second Army Corps, Army of the Potomac. Beginning with the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862 until General Robert E. Lee's surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse on April 10, 1865, the Fourteenth participated in thirty-four battles and skirmishes, lost more men killed in battle, in proportion to its size, and captured more prisoners, cannon and battleflags than any other Connecticut regiment.
Joseph Pierce was apparently courageous in battle. "His adopted son did Captain Pierce (Peck) great honor at Gettysburg, being among the first to go out on the skirmish line on 2 July and volunteering for the attack against the Bliss Farm on 3 July." (pg. 112, Connecticut Yankees At Gettysburg. The author gives an account of how Amos Peck came to bring Joseph Pierce to this country, which contains erroneous information on various details. He names the captain as being Joseph A. Pierce, picking him up as an orphan in Japan and adopting him with the name Joseph L. Pierce. The source of his information was not given.) He was appointed corporal on November 1, 1863 with which he was accorded the privilege of being charged .44 cents foe a canteen, .45 cents for a bayonet sheath and $1.62 for 1/2 shelter tent!
Ordered back to his state on February 9, 1864 for recruitment duties at US Draft Rendezvous in New Haven, he returned to his regiment in late October to take part in the remaining campaign of the war with the Army of the Potomac. Participating in the "Grand Review" of the armies in Washington, DC on May 23 rd, he was mustered out of the army on May 31, 1865.
After the war ended, he returned to Connecticut and settled in Meriden where he established himself as an engraver, first with the Meriden Silver Co. and then with the Meriden Britannia Co., the city's two largest silver companies. In 1876 he married Martha Morgan from Portland, Connecticut and had four children, two daughters, Lulu Edna and Edna Berta and two sons, Franklin Norris and Howard Benjamin.
Joseph Pierce died on January 3, 1916 at the age of 73 in his home of a complication of diseases.
I am of Chinese ancestry and my interest in Joseph Pierce stems from my interest in the American Civil War. The fact that I am Chinese and have this interest and love for this period of American history is not as ingenuous as it may first appear.
The American Civil War was initially fought to save the Union and later to eliminate the evils of slavery from a land that was founded on the principle that "all men are created equal." The North was victorious over the South. The Union was saved and slavery eliminated; the consequences of which set the course of what this country would become, namely, "a great melting pot" of immigrants into a single nation. As the son of immigrants, I lay claim to that inheritance from the Civil War. As an American, I am proud to be able to share in this chapter of its history.
My interest and love of the American Civil War was awakened by my reading of James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom, "The Civil War Era," a wonderful single volume narrative that vividly captures the essence of the issues, events, battles and individuals that shaped the course of that epic struggle.
"What appeal does the American Civil War have for me?" I have not been so seduced by my interest to gloss over the social, economic and racial issues that tore this nation apart and led to the bloodiest war to take place on this country's soil, but what was lacking in the America of that period was the cynicism that today has permeated its political process, its institutions and society, as a whole, to the point of paralysis in the country's ability to be governed by its elected officials.
People back then honestly and openly debated great social and moral issues. They willingly took a stand on issues and would even die for the beliefs and principles they perceived these issues stood for. Citizens rose to the demands of that conflict with great deeds of courage and valor and found abilities within themselves that they did not know existed, as John Gordon of Georgia and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of Maine.
The United States was led by a great but yet humble man, Abraham Lincoln, who openly sought God's wisdom and direction, as did so many people on both sides of this bloody struggle that literally became a war between brothers.
I became hooked, and like any novice, I could not read enough books or subscribe to enough magazines about the Civil War to satisfy my interest. In the very first issue of the "Civil War Times Illustrated" that I received, I came across the article that you see about Joseph Pierce being the only Chinese soldier in the Army of the Potomac. Through my readings, I knew of the participation of other immigrants, as the Irish and Germans, but had no idea that any Chinese ever participated in this great struggle to preserve the Union. (A letter dated April 23, 1997 from Karlton D. Smith, Park Ranger/Historian, Gettysburg National Military Park, indicated that there were at least four other men of possible Asian-American ancestry at the Battle of Gettysburg besides Joseph Pierce, including Antonio Dardelle of Company A, Twenty-seventh C.V.I. that was also part of the Army of the Potomac and John Tomney of Co. D, Seventith New York. There was also listed a Henry William Kwan, who served in Company B, Fifteenth Virginia Battalion and Andrew G. Murdock, Company G. Thirty-third North Carolina, both serving in the Army of Northern Virginia!) I read the article with a great sense of ethnic pride because of his participation. Saving the article, I also kept it in the back of my mind as being useful one day to refute any questions over the correctness of my participation of I ever acted on my fantasy of being a Civil War re-enactor!
Another book by James McPherson entitled, For Cause & Comrades, "Why Men Fought In the Civil War," caused me to revisit that article four years later. For Cause & Comrades is another thought provoking book that explores through the words of the soldiers on both sides of the conflict the reasons why they fought and willingly faced death for the beliefs they believed that war stood for.
For most who fought in the Civil War, the far-flung battlefields were the farthest many would travel during the course of their lives when most people at the time never went beyond twenty miles from where they lived. But what motivated Joseph Pierce, who was sold as a slave was taken thousands of miles from his homeland to a foreign country, whose language, culture and history he knew nothing about, to enlist eleven years later in a volunteer infantry regiment to fight to preserve a country, which in the nativistic atmosphere of the time, was openly hostile and racist towards foreign immigrants and would come to regard the Chinese as "coolies" no different than negro slaves?
The answer to this question along with the ethnic pride in his participation, motivate me to see what I could find out about the life of Joseph Pierce. My research became a labor of love and can be seen in "Joseph A. Pierce, A Chronology of the Life of a Chinese Yankee and His Family."
The picture of Joseph Pierce, which appeared on page 90 in the September/October 1994 issue of "Civil War Times Illustrated" article entitled, "An Oriental Yankee Soldier," is the same picture used on page 131 of the History of the Fourteenth Regiment Connecticut Volunteer Infantry by Charles D. Page published in 1906. The caption under the picture reads, "The Only Chinaman Inlisted (sp) in the Army of the Potomac." Except for the novelty of this statement, nothing more is written about him in the regimental history.
When Joseph Pierce died on January 3, 1916, forty-one years after the Civil War ended, his obituary made no mention of his unusual background or his service in the war with the Army of the Potomac. It simply stated that "he was well known and liked" (which in itself is worthy praise of anyone's life!) As far as anyone who read the obituary was concerned his life was no more remarkable than anyone else's life. Joseph pierce lived; he worked and he died. His gravesite like that of his wife and daughters, would have remained unmarked if the Federal Government had not provided a tombstone for Civil War veterans, as required by a law enacted in 1879, to identify his gravesite. The inscription on the tombstone reads:
But what motivated Joseph Pierce to enlist to fight in the Union Army, to risk his life for a country that was not his birth, where racial prejudice was far more openly manifested than it is now? The real answers to this question, of course, died with Joseph Pierce, but from what facts are known about his life some possible answers can be surmised.
James McPherson in his book For Cause & Comrades makes the strong case from participant letters that for those men who enlisted during the early days of the war before the draft was instituted by the government or bounties paid to serve in someone else's place, they were motivated by a strong sense of duty and honor and their firm belief in the cause and principles for which they fought, namely, liberty, freedom, justice and patriotism.
Joseph Pierce enlisted as a soldier in a volunteer regiment of Connecticut on July 26, 1862 in New Britain, Connecticut. He was not drafted or paid a bounty to serve in someone else's place. At the age of ten, he was sold by his father to Amos Peck, a sea captain, and was technically his slave. Mr. Peck apparently took a liking to "Joe" (influenced perhaps in strong measure by the anti-slavery sentiments of abolitionist New England) for he brought him up with his own younger siblings, allowing him to play and to attend school with them.
From his signature and questions he was required to answer on his enlistment papers, it could be said that Joseph Pierce had more than a fair amount of intelligence to learn to speak, understand and write English at a fairly advanced age.
Except by the grace of God, Amos Peck could have just as easily treated him, if not as a slave, as a family servant. His acceptance as a "member" by the Peck family and his opportunity to attend school (at a time when negro slaves were not allowed to be educated to keep them in ignorance of their situation) gave Joseph Pierce the opportunity to assimilate himself so completely into the fabric of his new homeland that he could identify himself as Joseph Pierce, an American, motivated to enlist by the same principles of liberty, freedom, justice and patriotism for which those early volunteers enlisted to uphold and fight for. (The sobering reality, whether or not he was consciously aware of it, that he was thousands of miles away from his home land in China with very little possibility of ever returning and finding his family, may have given him further impetus to identify himself completely with his new homeland and to put his past life behind him.)
Another reason why Joseph Pierce may have enlisted to fight for the Union, which is strictly conjecture, was his need to prove his own self-worth as an individual and a test of his manhood. Although he was by all accounts "Americanized," he still was an "outsider looking in" due to the color of his skin (his death certificate in 1916 still classified him by color and not by race). Though Joseph Pierce had an American name, he was still "yellow," the color of a "Chinaman." The trauma of being sold by his father may have also added to his need to eliminate his own self-doubts by proving himself in battle.
And fight he did, for his regiment, the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteers, became part of the Second Brigade of the Third Division (later re-organized in 1864 to the Second Division), Second Army Corps, Army of the Potomac, fighting in thirty-four battles and skirmishes. At the end of the war, only 215 (21%) of the original 1,040 men, who left to fight, returned home.
Promotions were given to soldiers who fought and were respected by their comrades. Joseph Pierce was appointed corporal on November 1, 1863.
As for many who fought in that conflict, the Civil War would prove to be the most singular event in Joseph Pierce's adult life. From 1862 to 1865, he unknowingly participated in what turned out to be many of the pivotal military events of that war, fighting in the major campaigns of the Army of the Potomac from Chancellorsville to Gettysburg to General Lee's surrender of the Army of the Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.
The places where the campaigns and battles led him would also be the farthest that he would travel in his whole life from his Connecticut home. After the war, he settled in Meriden, Connecticut and for the next 49 years that would remain in his life, Joseph Pierce lived, worked and worshipped within a two miles radius from his home on Meridian Street. When he died in his home on January 3, 1916, he was buried one mile up the road in Walnut Grove Cemetery.
Did the Civil War change his life as it did for so many who fought? Perhaps, if we take another look at his picture, the answer can be seen. The picture of Joseph Pierce is a posed portrait taken in a studio possibly for his wedding to Martha Morgan in 1876. The posture is that of a man, standing erect with an air of confidence, a determined look of pride and self-esteem, who is sure of himself and the future that he is facing. It is not the stance of a man with a servant's mentality or one whose spirit is broken by racial prejudice. If this picture was taken for his marriage to Martha Morgan, just think of the courage that both had to marry, outside the social conventions of that day, a member of another race (also, with the Chinese custom of arranged marriages, what a wonderful story, in itself, if Joseph Pierce and Martha Morgan married out of love!). (Joseph and Martha were not married in either of their hometowns of Meriden and Portland but in Branford by Rev. E.J. Elderidge of ME Church, who, perhaps, as sympathetic to the couple's plight.) He is shown in formal evening clothes, something quite fashionable, marking perhaps his success as a silver engraver, while the pigtail denoting his Chinese heritage is clearly visible.
James McPherson in For Cause & Comrades speaks of the excitement and the anxiety felt by those facing battle for the first time in the Civil War and not knowing if they would fight or run, as "facing the elephant." The Joseph Pierce, who is seen in this picture, is the result of one who has successfully "face the elephant," who did not run when those terrible bloody battles began and passed the test with confidence in his manhood.
Besides sharing the same ethnic background as Joseph Pierce, I was struck by a number of coincidences in his life that paralleled my life, which gave added interest to my research into his life. Like Joseph Pierce, my father is from Canton, China. Because of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act that severely restricted the entrance of the Chinese into this country and barred all Asian immigrants from being United States citizens until the late 1940's. He also entered the United States under an assumed name, the name of a family friend's son, who had died in China but was a United States citizen. The middle name of this name was Jo, Ming Jo, and just as the crew of Amos Peck's ship gave Joseph Pierce the nickname "Joe," my father was also known as "Joe" by everyone. Five years later in 1943, he served as a private in the OS infantry during WWII, as Joseph Pierce had during the Civil War.
Joseph Pierce married Martha Morgan, an American from Portland, Connecticut. My wife, Julie, is also an American from the same town. Joseph Pierce and I are of the same built and height, 5' 5'', and we both became members of the Methodist Episcopal Church in our respective cities of residence. His only grandson, Franklin W. Pierce, moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut, the city of my birth, and lived three blocks from the location of my childhood home.
During my research into his life, I had the added fortune of currently living in Plainville, Connecticut, the town adjacent to the cities of Meriden and New Britain and the Town of Berlin, where Joseph Pierce lived, worked, raised a family and died and the opportunity to visit a number of the battlefields on which his regiment had fought. To have had the experience of actually visiting and walking the very areas he did along with the number of coincidences that paralleled our lives, allowed me to closely identify with Joseph Pierce.
As a final act, I made a pilgrimage to Walnut Grove Cemetery to visit the gravesites of the Pierce family. As I stood at his gravesite and the adjacent unmarked gravesite of his wife in the midst of all the other silent graves, I reflected on the thought that when a person dies, he lives on in the memories of his families and friends. Once these memories die that person's existence is truly no more, and he does belong only to the memories of the ages.
Joseph Pierce's immediate family were all dead and his only descendents in 1963 were five great granddaughters and their children, all of whom were too young to know or to remember a man, who died in 1916. It was ironic that as a stranger, I probably knew more about Joseph Pierce and his family than his descendents. If it was not for my chance reading of Battle Cry of Freedom years ago which sparked my interest in the American Civil War and led me to delve further into those areas where this interest led me, the memory of Joseph Pierce would have remained undisturbed as those of the many soldiers on both sides of that conflict, who lay in both known and unknown gravesites and gave as president Lincoln said, "that last measure of full devotion."
James McPherson in his essay, "What's the Matter With History?" in Drawn With the Sword, "Reflections On the American Civil War," reflects on the dilemma facing professional historians, who want to write outside the sphere of academia to attract a wider, more general readership without placing themselves in the position of not being taken seriously as professional historians by their colleagues. He poses the question, "Can professional historians write to reach that larger audience called general readers while still maintaining the standards of scholarship that will attract other professional historians?"
History can be written in an engaging, entertaining and informative manner while maintaining a high standard of scholarship (general readers are not necessarily less demanding) so that it too will not be forgotten, lost to the memories of the past and silent like the graves around me.
This attempt at a "scholarly" research paper by an "amateur historian" (who is every measure of that term) is the result of my interest in the Civil War caused by a professional historian, who has been able to bridge the gap between being "a popular historian and a historian's historian."
I also reflected on one other aspect of Joseph Pierce's life. It was interesting to me that Joseph Pierce with his background (also, the Pecks' were Congregationalists) after the war was married, baptized and received into membership in the Methodist Episcopal Church. Perhaps, this can be attributed to his exposure to the great religious revivals that occurred in both the Union and confederate armies during the Civil war with the Methodist Church having a rich tradition of tent revival meetings.
I could not help but think that, despite the circumstances of his life as a boy of ten, being sold as a slave and taken from his homeland in China; growing up as a member and not as a slave in the household of the man who bought him; surviving some of the bloodiest battles fought during the Civil War; to his final years as a family man and skilled craftsman in Meriden, Connecticut, God continually had his hand on his life and that Joseph Pierce came to know the Lord because of it.
I firmly believe that "Almighty God" has his purpose for everyone's life. But that life only has a finite time of existence before it too becomes forgotten, lost to the memories of the past. What a person does with his life and how he defines it, God leaves up to him.
Joseph Pierce led a normal life until some divine spark caused him to enlist to fight in a war of great consequence to the history of this nation. He survived and continued on with his life until the day he died. The Civil War soldiers, who participated in this great conflict, willingly gave up their normal lives; enlisted to fight and even die for the principles they believes were at stake (the defining event in their lives) and for those who survived, returned home to their daily lives, changed forever until their final bivouac.
We now living may never be asked to make the extraordinary sacrifices as these men so willingly offered to do. Whether or not we would do so if confronted with the same choice remains questionable for we live in a much more cynical age. But as inheritors of the great individual freedoms so costly won as the result of the Civil War, may we be just as willing to take up whatever purpose God has set forth for our lives here on earth and make it the defining event in our lives.
Antietam, MD September 17, 1862
Fredericksburg, VA December 13, 1862
Chancellorsville, VA May 1, 2, 3, 1863
Gettysburg, PA July 2, 3, 1863
Falling Waters, VA October 14, 1863
Bristoe Station, VA October 14, 1863
Blackburn's Ford, VA October 17, 1863
Mine Run, VA November 29, 1863
Morton's Ford, VA February 6, 1864
Wilderness, VA May 5, 6, 1864
Laurel Hill, VA May 10, 1864
Spottsylvania, VA May 12, 13, 14, 18, 22, 1864
North Anna River, VA May 24, 26, 1864
Potopotomy, VA May 31, 1864
Cold Harbor, June 3, 1864
Cold Harbor, June 6, 1864
Petersburg, VA June 11 to July 6, 1864
Deep Bottom, VA August 15, 16, 1864
Ream's Station, VA August 25, 1864
Boydton Plank Road, VA October 27, 1864
Hatcher's Run, VA February 5, 1865
Hatcher's Run, VA March 25, 1865
High Bridge, Farmville, VA and Surrender of Lee's Army April 9, 1865
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February 6, 2001
Revised and uploaded on January 27, 2009