In the first half of the 19th century, many people from Asia, particularly Chinese, immigrated to the United States where opportunities for employment were abundant. This was clearly a condition consistent with a Nation that was growing not only geographically but economically as well. By the start of the Civil War, thousands of Asians were living in the United States. Many served with distinction in the U.S. Army.
Civil War Biographies
Edward Day Cohota
In 1845, Sargent S. Day, captain of the square-rigged merchant ship Cohota, left Shanghai, China, bound for Massachusetts. Two days from port, he discovered two little half-starved Chinese boys on board. The older boy died, but Day "adopted" the younger boy and named him Edward Day Cohota. Edward sailed the world with Captain and Mrs. Day until the captain retired to Gloucester, Mass. in 1857. He attended school and the other Day children treated him as a brother.
With the outbreak of the American Civil War, Cohota joined the 23rd Massachusetts Infantry. He fought in the Battle of Drury's Bluff near Richmond, Va., on May 16, 1864, and at the Battle of Cold Harbor, Va., June 3, 1864. He stayed with the Army of the Potomac through the end of the war. After the war, Cohota rejoined the Army and was stationed at Fort Randall, Dakota Territory. He married and had six children. He served in the Army for 30 years. He believed that his military service qualified him for U.S. citizenship. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion act, a legal measure enacted to cease the immigration of Chinese laborers into the United States. Because Cohota hadn't submitted his second set of naturalization papers prior to the passing of this Act, he ultimately was unable to gain American citizenship. Cohota died at the Battle Mountain Sanitarium for Veterans in Hot Springs, S.D., in 1935.
Joseph L. Pierce
Private Joseph L. Pierce was age 21 when he enlisted in the 14th Connecticut Infantry in August 1862. It's unclear how Pierce ended up in the United States. One story has it that his father sold him to Connecticut ship Captain Amos Peck for $6. Another story was that his brother sold him for $60. Still another was that Peck picked Pierce up while he was adrift in the South China Sea. Peck, a lifelong bachelor, turned the 10-year-old he called "Joe" over to his mother in Connecticut. In his youth, Joe went to school with the Peck family children and formally became Joseph Pierce in 1853. He picked up his last name from President Franklin Pierce. Pierce worked as a farmer in New Britain, Connecticut, at the time of his military enlistment. He listed his birthplace as Canton in Kwangtung Province, China.
Pierce's regiment participated in the Battle of Antietam, Md. Sept. 17, 1862. He suffered some sickness during his time around Washington and was in the hospital for a time. He was assigned to the Quartermaster Department for a bit and rejoined the 14th in time for the Battle of Chancellorsville, Va. in May 1863. The 14th had a distinguished role in the Gettysburg campaign. It fought on the north part of Cemetery Ridge on July 2 and was one of the units that helped repel Pickett's Charge. The 14th was primarily responsible for turning back Brig. Gen. James Pettigrew's North Carolina division. The 14th's regimental history says that during Pickett's charge, Pierce appeared "pig-tail and all, the only Chinese in the Army of the Potomac," but as history reflects, he wasn't in fact the only Soldier of Chinese descent. Today, you can see the 14th Memorial to the north of the grove of trees marking the high-water mark of the Confederacy.