Those were the days of sailing ships augmented by steam power and China was as remote from the Eastern United States as it was possible to be. Still, Chinese Americans found their way to the East Coast, and researchers claim that as many as 50 Chinese fought as soldiers during the American Civil War. The number does not include the Chinese who served in the U.S. Navy. The soldiers fought on both sides. Chinese soldier of the Union participated in the most famous battle of the Civil War: the three-day Battle of Gettysburg. Pvt. Joseph L. Pierce enlisted in the 14th Connecticut Infantry in August 1862.
Union soldiers of Chinese heritage definitely fought in Gettysburg.
Private Joseph L. 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) The statement was a little exaggerated, for certainly there were more than one Chinese in the Army of the Potomac.
All male Chinese wore this kind of pigtail hairstyle, in the Manchu Dynasty, in the 19th century. 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 served as a cook in the Army and survived the war. I am not successful in finding out under what circumstances he came to America.
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.
BURIED: West Cemetery
New Haven County
John Lee from the 14th Connecticut regiment fought in Gettsburg and was killed there. He came from China. In the Confederate army, there was one Henry William Kwan of Co. B, 15th Virginia Battalion. Another one was Andrew S. Murdock, Co. G, 33rd North Carolina Infantry, who was born in the East Indies, and he could be an Asian.
Edward Day Cohota was orphaned at an early age. One story of his life has him as a four-year-old stowaway on an American ship sailing away from China, while another version says he was living on the dock, near Shanghai, and was picked up as a stray. In both versions, his benefactor was Captain Sargent S. Day, of the ship Cohota. The year was 1852. The young man seems to have been both cabin boy and adopted son, and kept in close touch with the other Day children for the next seventy years.
Young Cohota seems to have been eighteen years old when he enlisted in the 23rd Massachusetts Infantry in February 1864. In his sixteen months of service with Company I, he saw combat at Drury’s Bluff, Petersburg and Cold Harbor. At the latter place, a Minie ball grazed his scalp, leaving a permanent part in his hair. In that same battle, he saved the life of William E. Low, who had been struck in the jaw and rendered helpless by shock and blood loss. After the shooting stopped, Cohota carried the wounded man to a field hospital. In 1928, friends arranged for them to meet again. Low, now nearly deaf and blind, was at first unable to understand the purpose of the meeting, but, “suddenly his face flamed with recognition and his whole being was electrified, as he leaped to his feet with a cry of ‘Cohota!’ The two embraced with tears.”
In the months after the war, Cohota was unable to find work, encountered a few old comrades in a Boston saloon and while drunk, enlisted in the 15th Infantry, where he served thirty years. His regular army enlistment papers catalog his life on the frontier.
In 1866, his first papers describe him as five-foot, seven-inches in height, with black hair, black eyes and dark complexion, born in China, by the occupation of a seaman. He signed with an “X.” Three years later, he re-enlisted at Fort Garland, Colorado Territory and in 1874 signed up again at Santa Fe, New Mexico, again signing with an “X.” The year 1879 found him signing at Fort Stanton, high in the Capitan Mountains of central New Mexico. On his 1884 papers, completed at Fort Randall, Dakota Territory, he signed his own name, the first time in these records. Three years later, he was still in Fort Randall and his records note, for the first time, “Dancing girl tattooed on inner surface right forearm,” and “Married with two children.” He retired in August 1894. While at Fort Randall he said he stood guard over Indian chief Sitting Bull and spoke of him as a friendly chief.
At Fort Randall, he met Anna Halstensen, a Norwegian girl, and their marriage produced six children. They lived many years at Fort Niobrara, very near Valentine, Nebraska; there, after his 1894 retirement, he opened a restaurant, became a master Mason, and voted in every election.
Cohota passed his last days at the Battle Mountain Sanitarium for Veterans, at Hot Springs, South Dakota. He seemed to bear no ill will toward the country, which had denied him citizenship, and stood with his hat off “at attention, with reverence and respect,” as the flag came down each evening in the gathering Dakota dusk.
The dark wings of Death, which had passed so close at Cold Harbor, finally touched him in 1935. His granddaughter recalls him dying on the front porch of the family home at Parmelee, South Dakota. He had always considered Valentine, Nebraska, to be his true home, and there his family took him; the last Masonic rites were performed by Minnechadusa Lodge No. 192.
BURIED: Mount Hope Cemetery
(Written by Thomas P. Lowry. Co-author Edward S. Milligan wrote about Chinese in the Navy.)
John AhSoo; age 22; 133rd New York and later consolidated into 90th Battalion New York Veteran Infantry. he joined the regiment as a substitute, at Cedar Creek in Feb 1864.
John AWoo; age 24; 133rd New York and later consolidated into 90th Battalion New York Veteran Infantry. He enlisted as a substitute, in Jamaica, New York.
John BubSon; age 28; 133rd New York and later consolidated into 90th Battalion New York Veteran Infantry. He also enlisted as a substitute, in Jamaica, New York.
Christopher Wren Bunker; son of the famous Siamese Twin; Co. I, 37th Battalion, Virginia Cavalry; captured at Moorefield, West Virginia on Aug 1864; imprisoned in Camp Chase, Ohio and then, to City Point, Virginia.
Antonio Dardelle; Co. A, 27th Connecticut Infantry; enlisted on Aug 1862; wounded at Marye’s Heights in Fredericksburg; became a U.S. citizen.
John Fouenty; joined the Confederate army in Savannah, Georgia for a year.
John Kim; Co. G, 61st Pennsylvania Infantry; enlisted on Oct 1864; mustered out on June 1865.
William H. Kwan; Co. B, 12th Virginia Battalion of Light Artillery.
John Lee; 14th Connecticut regiment; born in China; fought in Gettsburg and was killed there.
John Tommy (variation:Tomney,Tommey,Tourney,Tonney and Taminy); Co. D, 70th New York Infantry; captured in March 1862 in Prince William Counties; paroled in May 1862 at Newport News; captured again at Manassas in Aug 1862; re-joined his regiment on Dec 1862; promoted to corporal on Feb 1863; received fatal wounds in Gettysburg and bled to death.
Hong Neok Woo; Co. I, 50th Pennsylvania Infantry; served three months in Harrisburg and Chambersburg and got discharged. A missionary arranged the 16 years old boy from Shanghai, China to go on board the American frigate Susquehanna, as a servant to the ship’s doctor, to Pennsylvania. His friend dissuaded him to fight for his adopted country,where he became an US citizen. His loyalty preveiled. After the war, he returned home and served as an Episcopalian priest.
The following Chinese served the Union Navy (name / duty / his age at enlistment / month & year when enlisted / name of Navy ship served):
Tannror Acoan; officer’s cook; age 23; Aug 1862; Pinola
John Afoo; Landsman; age 44; March 1862; Harvest Moon.
John Afoo; ship’s cook; age 44; March 1863; Wyandott
John Afoo; ship’s cook; age 44; March 1863; Wyandank
Ahoo; Landsman; age 21; Wyoming
John Ahoy; Landsman; age 28; March 1862; Harvest Moon.
John Ahoy; officer’s cook; age 28; March 1862; Pinola
John Aie; officer’s cook; age 22; May 1864; Tallapoosa
John Akomb; steward; Red River expedition; in the gunboat Massachusetts.
John Akee; Landsman; age 20; May 1864; Tallapoosa
John Arnung; Landsman; age 22; Aug 1864; Grand Gulf
John Ase; Landsman; age 21; July 1864; Wyandank
John Asian; First class boy; age 20; May 1865; Relief
John Aslan; enlisted in Macao (Macau), a Portuguese colony in China; Relief.
Ah Chee; wardroom steward; age 21; March 1865; Comanche
John Ching Ching; born in Hong Kong; age 25; enlisted at New Orleans in July 1862; Resolute.
John Ching Chong; age 27; 1863 muster roll; Itasca.
John Comfort; Landsman; age 19; Sep 1861; Seneca
Joseph Dailey; cook; age 24; Aug 1864; Mohican
John Dixey; First class boy; age 14; July 1865; Relief
John Ah Hang; Landsman; served on North Carolina; age 22; enlisted 1863 in New York; USS Albatross.
George Hitchings; officer’s cook; age 24; Jan 1862; Kenebec
Ah Hong; Landsman; age 17; March 1865; Comanche
Charlie Irwin; age 24; 1863 muster roll; Itasca.
John King; Landsman; age 20; Feb 1865; Hartford
Peter Mullen; seaman; age 28; Apr 1864; Onondaga
John Owens; cook; age 35; May 1864; Norwich
Ah Poa; waiter; age 40; March 1865; Comanche
William Robinson; Landsman; age 18; Feb 1862; St. Marys
William Robinson; age 19; Landsman; enlisted in Macao (Macau), a Portuguese colony in China, in Aug 1865; Relief.
Dexter Russell; seaman; age 21; May 1863; Montgomery
John Shun; officer’s cook; age 25; Dec 1861; Pursuit
Ah Sin; Landsman; age 22; Dec 1863; Narragansett
Ah Sin; Landsman; age 18; Oct 1863; Saginaw
Thomas Smith; 1863 muster roll; Itasca.
Ah Soo; Landsman; age 22; Sep 1863; Monongahela
John Wing; steward; age 25; Dec 1861; Pursuit
Ah Wo; Landsman; age 21; July 1863; Monongahela
John Wyhie; Landsman; age 28; enlisted in March 1862; Harvest Moon.