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Asian American Civil War History: Chinese Soldier Dies At Gettysburg

July 3, 2010, 1:59 pm

Reported in the New York Times, July 12, 1863:

Among the killed at Gettysburgh was a young Chinaman, known as JOHN TOMMY. He was attached to the First regiment Excelsior brigade, Capt. PRICK’s company. JOHN TOMMY was the only representative of the Central Flowery Kingdom in the Army of the Potomac, and was widely known both from that circumstances and certain peculiarities of this own. JOHN TOMMY came to this country immediately after the breaking out of the war, and was induced to enlist in Gen. SICKLES’ brigade, at that time being raised in [New York.] He was then a mere lad, entirely ignorant of our language. Being bright, smart and honest, he soon become a favorite at Red Hook, States Island, and was at once the butt and the wit of the whole regiment.

Before he became located on the Maryland shore of the Potomac opposite Aquia Creek, in one of the reconnaissances on the south side of the river, TOMMY was taken prisoner and soon become a lion in the rebel camp. He was brought before Gen. MAGRUDER, who surprised at his appearance and color, asked him was he a mulatto, Indian or what? When TOMMY told him he was from China, MAGRUDER was very much amused, and asked him how much he would take to join the Confederate army. “Not unless you would make me a Brigadier-General,” said TOMMY, to the great delight of the secesh officers who treated him very kindly and sent him to Fredericksburgh.

Here TOMMY become a great lion, and his picture was published in the Fredericksburgh papers. Subsequently he was sent to the Libby Prison, Richmond, where he met his captain, BENJAMIN PRICE, who had been taken prisoner at Williamsburgh. After his parole TOMMY [returned] to New York City. where he employed his time in attending upon his sick and wounded comrades. He was the kindest of [nurses] and [spent] his little means in providing delicacies for sick fellow soldiers. In the subsequent engagements at Frederick and last at Gettysburgh. JOHN TOMMY was one of the bravest soldiers in that bravest of brigade, the Excelsior. He seemed not to know what fear was and was the universal favorite of all his fellow soldiers. He had not been wounded up to Gettysburgh, but in Friday’s night he was wounded by a shell, which tore off both legs at the thighs, and he shortly [bled] to death. The company he was in went into the action with twenty eight men and lost twenty in killed and wounded. TOMMY’s [service] is peculiar as he was the only representative of the Empire of China in the finest army on the planet [or in the] World.

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On this day in 1863, my ancestor, Charles Potter, Massachusetts 10th (Vols.), of North Adams, was in reserve to the east of Gettysburg, having marched 37 miles from Manchester, MD in 17 hours. At 5 P.M. his unit would be called to the defense of Little Round Top to reinforce the exhausted Union troops who had just repelled Pickett’s Charge.
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