Joseph Pierce is a Civil War veteran who is believed to be the highest-ranking Chinese American soldier in the Union Army.
The history: There are conflicting reports of how Pierce arrived in the U.S., according to Ruthanne Lum McCunn‘s “Chinese in the Civil War: Ten Who Served.”
- One story told of how Pierce was sold by his father for $6 to feed his family and another of how his older brother sold him for “about $50-60 into foreign slavery to get rid of him.”
- There was one that told of how Pierce was brought to the U.S. by his adoptive father, Capt. Amos Peck III, sometime in the 1850s, according to Pacific Citizen.
- Joseph Pierce was his chosen name as a Chinese immigrant, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ post reads.
- The Peck family taught Pierce how to read and write upon arriving in the country. They also let him keep his traditional Chinese braided queue.
- He and his brothers were told about the horror and bloody history of the Revolutionary War, but the grotesque details did not stop him from joining the army.
Service for the country: Pierce enlisted in the cavalry on July 26, 1862, the first year of the American Civil War. He became a member of the “Second Brigade of the Third Division, Second Army Corps of the Army of the Potomac.”
- It is believed that Pierce is the only Chinese American soldier in the Army of the Potomac, the principal Union Army in the Eastern Theater.
- He fought in the Battle of Antietam and the Battle of Gettysburg, where he was promoted to the ranks of corporal. The former resulted in an estimated 22,720 casualties and the latter was estimated at over 50,000. The aftermath of Gettysburg was so bloody that there was a report of a tourist finding a body from the battle more than a century later in 1996, according to Business Insider.
- Pierce was also “given the honor to participate in the Grand Review of the Armies in Washington when the Civil War ended in 1865.”
After the war: Pierce moved and settled in Meriden, Conn., where he married an American woman named Martha Morgan. The two had four children together.
- Pierce was believed to have attended the 14th Connecticut Regiment Reunion in 1890.
- He retired in 1914 and passed away from illnesses on Jan. 3, 1916, at the age of 73.
- His picture can be seen hanging in the Gettysburg Museum.