Extend the Experience: Asians and Pacific Islanders in the Civil War

May 15, 2020Book Of The Week, Extend The Experience

Asians and Pacific Islanders in the
Civil War

Asians and Pacific Islanders fought for both the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War. Understanding their experiences and perspectives is essential to understanding the full scope of a conflict that defined the country, and changed the world, for decades to come. From the Chinese laborers forced into indentured servitude fighting for freedom in the west, to the forgotten warriors in the war’s epic battles in the east, the voices of Asians and Pacific Islanders during this tumultuous time provide a full picture of America during the Civil War. 

Book of the Week

This week’s book of the week is Asians and Pacific Islanders and the Civil War.

In the last several decades, a small group of historians, researchers, writers, and Civil War enthusiasts have begun to recover the stories of these forgotten warriors – the Asians and Pacific Islanders who fought in the Civil War. How many others have slipped into obscurity without acknowledgment of their contribution to this nation’s history? Lack of documentation makes it difficult to find these men, but researchers have identified several hundred soldiers and sailors who served from Asia and the Pacific Islands. Some fought for the Union and some for the Confederacy. There are, perhaps, many more. Take a journey to learn more about these brave souls!

Stories from the civil war

Corporal Joseph Peirce

As a boy, Joseph Pierce was brought to the United States from China by Captain Amos Peck. Pierce was brought to Berlin, Connecticut and placed in the care of Peck’s parents. At age 22, Joseph enlisted in the 14th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. Within a year he would fight for the Union cause in two of the bloodiest and most significant battles in American history: Antietam and Gettysburg. Check out these animated battlefield maps of Antietam and Gettysburg from the American Battlefield Trust to learn more about what he might have experienced. 

The Bunkers of North Carolina

When Cheng and Eng Bunker, the famous conjoined twins from Siam, retired from touring in 1839, they took up agriculture, owning farms in North Carolina. At the outbreak of the Civil War, the two held more than 30 slaves between their estates. Their sons, Christopher and Stephen both enlisted in the Confederate Cavalry in 1863. Explore a digitized collection of the Bunker family’s letters, photos, and other digitized primary source documents from the Bunkers here. 


Hawaiian Neutrality

Fearing attacks from Confederate Privateers, King Kamehameha IV officially declared the Kingdom of Hawaii’s neutrality in the Civil War in August 1861. Some attempts to volunteer for the United States were blocked, but over 100 Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders fought for US and Confederate forces. Pacific Islanders were known to have sailed on the CSS Shenandoah, as well as the USS Santiago de Cuba. Four Native Hawaiians on the Santiago de Cuba participated in the daring raid on Fort Fisher in January 1865, near Wilmington, NC. It was the last major functioning Confederate port. Learn more about the life of Kamehameha IV here.

Passport Virtual Cancellation 

War in the Pacific NHP

War in the Pacific National Historical Park commemorates the Pacific Theater of World War II, which involved more than ten countries—making up over 1/3 of Earth’s surfacebut took place on just 1/145 of Earth’s land mass. The people of the Pacific islands were caught in the middle of the conflict as battles raged on their land and sea. Learn more about the bravery, history, and sacrifice of this turbulent event, as well as the beautiful natural resources of the island. And be sure to add the only national park on Guam to your virtual Passport! 

Celebrate Asian American & Pacific Islanders Heritage Month! 

Want to learn more about the history, culture, and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in America? Join the National Park Service in celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islanders Heritage Month 

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The Civil War Series

Dive deeper into the stories of the Civil War through this unique collection of publications!

Civil War
Travelers Guide

America’s National Parks
Civil War Handbook

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