Asians and Pacific Islanders in the
U.S. Civil War
In the century after the U.S. Civil War ended, the presence of Asian and Pacific Islander (API) combatants largely receded from memory, often within their own families. But in the past few decades, researchers–chiefly Australia–based Terry Foenander–have identified over 300 API combatants. This number is miniscule in the face of the three million who fought. Given the small population of Asians and Pacific Islanders then in the United States, however, the percentage of men that served was astonishingly high. Moreover, the range of their participation was broad, and the challenges they faced for acceptance during and after the war–particularly the prolonged battles of Chinese veterans for naturalization–are an important yet virtually unknown chapter in this nation's rocky struggle towards a more perfect Union.
As evidenced in my 1996 "Chinese in the Civil War: Ten Who Served," the focus of my work has been on reconstructing the lives of combatants–from birth to death–through a combination of military records, pension files, newspapers, family papers and reminiscences, archival documents and published accounts of the Civil War. This century's explosion of online resources for primary material has brought to light additional information on some of those individuals, leading me to different or more nuanced interpretations and analysis in the revised and new profiles I wrote for Asian Americans: An Encyclopedia of Social, Cultural, and Political Change (2014). The 2005 identification of Hong Kong born combatant Thomas Sylvanus (Ah Yee Way) gave me the opportunity to reclaim his amazing lifelong fight for freedom and justice in Chinese Yankee: A True Story from the Civil War (2014).
Histories of the war, except for rare citations of individuals, have yet to include API participation, however. In an effort to rectify this omission, the National Park Service will publish Asians and Pacific Islanders and the Civil War March 2015.