US Memorial Day: Remembering John Tomney, a Chinese American Soldier killed at Gettysburg

Casualty Report on John Tomney, from US National Archives

During an era when Asian Americans continue to be questioned for their loyalty and are still considered perpetual foreigners, it is worthwhile on US Memorial Day to note Asian Americans who fought and died for their country.  One such Asian American is John Tomney.  He joined the Union Army in 1861, apparently without being able to speak English, and died in 1863 at the battle of Gettysburg.

While having a short life, Tomney certainly had a colorful one.  He quickly learned English and became a camp favorite.  During the war, he was captured and Confederates were confused as to his ethnic origins.  When he was presented to a general who asked him what would take for him to join the Confederate Army, he was said to have replied, “Only if you make me a Brigadier General.” His response amused his captors greatly, and he was reportedly treated very kindly after that.

Tomney was freed during a prisoner exchange and returned to the battlefield.  He bled to death at Gettysburg after a shell hit his legs (his casualty report is shown above). To read more about Tomney and other Asian Americans in the Civil War, I suggest reading Asians and Pacific Islanders and the Civil War, published by the National Park Service. To see our posts on AAPI who have given their lives in the service of their country, check our tag US Memorial Day.

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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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