Discussion How did the Civil War affect Americans in Asia?

SeaTurtle

Private
Joined
Jun 14, 2021
Chinese history is absolutely fascinating and I wish I knew more about it.

And as if the Taiping Rebellion didn't cause enough suffering, one of the other major pushes for (southern) Chinese migration to America in the 1850's-60s were the bloody Punti-Hakka clan wars: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punti–Hakka_Clan_Wars

We think America was in turmoil during the 1860s, but China was on another level...
 

Zack

Sergeant
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Location
Los Angeles, California
In order for one to be a Christian, he has to believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus is divine. He had no siblings. This man was indeed a heretic.

I do agree with your larger point. Interesting how major events can have such seemingly innocuous catalysts.

Gotcha. It appears that most Americans and Europeans, the more they learned about Hong's beliefs, distanced themselves from him for that reason.
 

Zack

Sergeant
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Location
Los Angeles, California
Gordon Chang in FATEFUL TIES Page 61 - 63 in the Google Books preview:

In 1853, the Taiping army defeated imperial forces throughout southern China and entered the great city of Nanjing, the former capital of the Ming dynasty. One American missionary, William Speer, who later worked among Chinese immigrants in San Francisco, recalled that "the Christian world was thrilled" when missionaries learned the news that the Taiping had captured Nanjing and established a rival capital. "It seemed as if a nation had been born in a day," Rev. William Speer wrote. "The prophecies of Isaiah as to the mighty victories of the gospel were indeed about to be realized." Even President Franklin Pierce, eager to divert American attention away from the growing sectional crisis in the country, optimistically predicted in his annual message to Congress in 1853 that the rebellion would soon improve commercial relations between China and America.

At the moment of their greatest victory, however, the Taiping also began to lose the support of erstwhile Western supporters. Rev. Roberts and several other American missionaries who had accepted invitations to visit the Taiping capital found, to their profound disappointment, that the Taiping were not what the missionaries had hoped they would be. They concluded that Hong Xiuquan was delusional and his so-called Christianity heretical. Rev. J. L. Holmes, a colleague of Roberts who also visited the Taiping capital, reported, "I found to my sorrow, nothing of Christianity" but rather a "system of revolting idolatry." Holmes was later killed at the hands of Taiping. Catholic missionaries, who had never liked the iconoclasm of the Taiping, encouraged their suppression.

.....
The American experience with the Taiping was the first, though far from the last, dramatic example of what might be called American wishful thinking about China. The missionaries and their supporters back home at first thought the Taiping were the revolutionary force for which they had prayed. They saw what they wanted to see in the Taiping, even when there was ample evidence to the contrary. When they eventually concluded that the Taiping were not God's instrument, they reversed themselves and welcomed the bloody suppression of the rebels, convinced that the end of the Taiping was actually God's will. "It was a mercy of Heaven that this revolution was brought to naught," Rev. William Speer eventually concluded.
 
Last edited:

Zack

Sergeant
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Location
Los Angeles, California

Zack

Sergeant
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Location
Los Angeles, California
And as if the Taiping Rebellion didn't cause enough suffering, one of the other major pushes for (southern) Chinese migration to America in the 1850's-60s were the bloody Punti-Hakka clan wars: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punti–Hakka_Clan_Wars

We think America was in turmoil during the 1860s, but China was on another level...

Hong Xiuquan was Hakka Chinese actually. He played on tensions between the minority Manchu that ruled the country in the form of the Qing Dynasty since the early 17th Century and the majority Han population of the country. The Hakka were deeply anti-Manchu.
Hong considered the Manchus to be "demons" and set about wiping them out in the most brutal ways imaginable.
 

Cycom

Sergeant
Joined
Feb 19, 2021
Location
Los Angeles, California
Gordon Chang in FATEFUL TIES Page 61 - 63 in the Google Books preview:

In 1853, the Taiping army defeated imperial forces throughout southern China and entered the great city of Nanjing, the former capital of the Ming dynasty. One American missionary, William Speer, who later worked among Chinese immigrants in San Francisco, recalled that "the Christian world was thrilled" when missionaries learned the news that the Taiping had captured Nanjing and established a rival capital. "It seemed as if a nation had been born in a day," Rev. William Speer wrote. "The prophecies of Isaiah as to the mighty victories of the gospel were indeed about to be realized." Even President Franklin Pierce, eager to divert American attention away from the growing sectional crisis in the country, optimistically predicted in his annual message to Congress in 1853 that the rebellion would soon improve commercial relations between China and America.

At the moment of their greatest victory, however, the Taiping also began to lose the support of erstwhile Western supporters. Rev. Roberts and several other American missionaries who had accepted invitations to visit the Taiping capital found, to their profound disappointment, that the Taiping were not what the missionaries had hoped they would be. They concluded that Hong Xiuquan was delusional and his so-called Christianity heretical. Rev. J. L. Holmes, a colleague of Roberts who also visited the Taiping capital, reported, "I found to my sorrow, nothing of Christianity" but rather a "system of revolting idolatry." Holmes was later killed at the hands of Taiping. Catholic missionaries, who had never liked the iconoclasm of the Taiping, encouraged their suppression.

.....
The American experience with the Taiping was the first, though far from the last, dramatic example of what might be called American wishful thinking about China. The missionaries and their supporters back home at first though the Taiping were the revolutionary force for which they had prayed. They saw what they wanted to see in the Taiping, even when there was ample evidence to the contrary. When they eventually concluded that the Taiping were not God's instrument, they reversed themselves and welcomed the bloody suppression of the rebels, convinced that the end of the Taiping was actually God's will. "It was a mercy of Heaven that this revolution was brought to naught," Rev. William Speer eventually concluded.
Thanks, Zack. This adds more context to the event.

Ive always been troubled by people claiming to know the will of God through current events.
 

SeaTurtle

Private
Joined
Jun 14, 2021
Hong Xiuquan was Hakka Chinese actually. He played on tensions between the minority Manchu that ruled the country in the form of the Qing Dynasty since the early 17th Century and the majority Han population of the country. The Hakka were deeply anti-Manchu.
Hong considered the Manchus to be "demons" and set about wiping them out in the most brutal ways imaginable.

No surprise there. Anti-Manchu sentiment was often stronger in the south than it was in the north. That's not to say there were no Qing loyalists in the south or anti-Manchus in the north ... but for example the original Triad secret societies were formed in the south, and one of their founding principles was anti-Qing resistance. Sun Yat-sen, founding father of the republic that overthrew the Qing in 1911, was also from the south. But now I'm drifting away from the Civil War era, so I apologize :tongue:

Going back to Americans in Asia, one of the first english-language books that I'm aware of which gives an eyewitness account of Siberia and Mongolia was written by a former Civil War correspondant, Thomas W. Knox. It was published in 1871 and titled "Overland through Asia; Pictures of Siberian, Chinese, and Tartar Life".
 

SeaTurtle

Private
Joined
Jun 14, 2021
It would be interesting to know how much Civil War surplus ended up in Asia. For instance I'm aware that Spencer repeaters were used in Japan during the Boshin War (1868-69), though the ones I've seen were postwar "New Model" variants.

I do know that the Tokugawa Shogunate bought an ironclad warship in 1867 which had been originally destined for the Confederacy: the CSS Stonewall (renamed Kotetsu in Japan).
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_ironclad_Kōtetsu
 

Zack

Sergeant
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Location
Los Angeles, California
It would be interesting to know how much Civil War surplus ended up in Asia. For instance I'm aware that Spencer repeaters were used in Japan during the Boshin War (1868-69), though the ones I've seen were postwar "New Model" variants.

I do know that the Tokugawa Shogunate bought an ironclad warship in 1867 which had been originally destined for the Confederacy: the CSS Stonewall (renamed Kotetsu in Japan).
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_ironclad_Kōtetsu

I too would be interested to know. I did some googling and came across this interesting story:

In January 1860, just six years after Commodore Perry's mission to Japan, the Japanese dispatched an embassy delegation to San Francisco aboard the Kanrin Maru, their first screw-driven, steam warship. Besides ratifying a treaty with the US, this mission showed off the rapid and profound mastery of Western technology that the Japanese accomplished in such a short time.

It's absolutely incredible, really. In 1853 Japan had never seen a steam-powered vessel before (missions in 1791, 1846, and 1848 were sailing ships) and in 1860 they dispatched one across the Pacific to the United States. She was accompanied on her journey by the USS Powhatan, which just one year and a couple months later was involved in a conflict over whether it should be dispatched to relieve the garrison at Fort Sumter or Fort Pickens (the latter won out in a very complicated mess of orders and countermanding orders and ignored orders).

Kanrinmaru.jpg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_Embassy_to_the_United_States
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_warship_Kanrin_Maru
 

SeaTurtle

Private
Joined
Jun 14, 2021
I just re-checked a couple of my sources on the Chinese army ca. late-Qing period, and it seems that they did receive a lot of surplus Springfield M1861 rifled muskets. According to one Austrian visitor in 1884, more Chinese soldiers at that date were using old European and American muzzle-loaders rather than modern breechloaders/repeaters, and many still even had Chinese-made matchlocks. It took the Chinese a lot longer to catch up with western military technology than it did for the Japanese.

The "modernised" Ever Victorious Army (a special formation of the Chinese military that received western training and arms) also bought some Sharps M1863 carbines and Colt Dragoon and Navy revolvers, although given that they were only active as a force concurrently with the American Civil War (ca. 1860-64) I don't think those guns were Civil War surplus.
 

Sbc

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 18, 2015
Location
Easley, South Carolina
I just re-checked a couple of my sources on the Chinese army ca. late-Qing period, and it seems that they did receive a lot of surplus Springfield M1861 rifled muskets. According to one Austrian visitor in 1884, more Chinese soldiers at that date were using old European and American muzzle-loaders rather than modern breechloaders/repeaters, and many still even had Chinese-made matchlocks. It took the Chinese a lot longer to catch up with western military technology than it did for the Japanese.

The "modernised" Ever Victorious Army (a special formation of the Chinese military that received western training and arms) also bought some Sharps M1863 carbines and Colt Dragoon and Navy revolvers, although given that they were only active as a force concurrently with the American Civil War (ca. 1860-64) I don't think those guns were Civil War surplus.
The Ever Victorious Army! What a great propaganda coup. Gordon was certainly bold in thought and deed.
 

SeaTurtle

Private
Joined
Jun 14, 2021
The Ever Victorious Army! What a great propaganda coup. Gordon was certainly bold in thought and deed.

There was also the Ever Triumphant Army (with French advisors/trainers) and the Ever Secure Army. The Chinese certainly loved their flowery unit titles :wink:
 

Zack

Sergeant
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Location
Los Angeles, California
While doing some Wikipedia reading I came across this interesting story. In 1858 the French launched the Cochinchina campaign, which eventually led to Vietnam becoming a French colony.

The US had pretty much nothing to do with one small exception. The sloop of war USS Saginaw, as part of the East India Squadron, silenced a battery that fired at her from the entrance to Qui Noon Bay in what Europeans called Cochin China and we today know as Vietnam. This event occurred on June 30, 1861.

The USS Saginaw was decommissioned in Hong Kong in January 1862 and then relaunched in December 1862 to join the Pacific Squadron in operations against Confederate raiders.
20110822061732%21USS_Saginaw.jpg
The USS Saginaw (right) at Mare Island Naval Yard, California c. 1860

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_India_Squadron
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Saginaw_(1859)
 
Last edited:

Zack

Sergeant
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Location
Los Angeles, California
In both the case of the USS Saginaw at Qui Noon Bay and the USS Wyoming at Shimonoseki Straits the captain seems to have made the decision in the moment to engage in battle without consulting the Lincoln Administration. The geographic distance and time it would take to communicate was simply too long. Furthermore, both were reprisal actions for the firing on American vessels and did not lead to American involvement in the larger European campaigns (France's seizure of Vietnam 1858 - 1862 and the Shimonoseki Campaigns of 1863 and 1864 to be specific).

What's actually pretty interesting to me in a larger sense is that, despite playing a key role in the opening of Japan, the US generally took a backseat role in the Pacific and Asia during the 19th Century. China especially but even Japan, though the latter may be more due to the need to focus on America's own sectional issues. Britain made a treaty with Japan in 1854 (same as the US) and the Netherlands, Russia, France signed treaties in 1858.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unequal_treaty#Japan

I wonder why that is. Obviously the Civil War had quite a lot to do with it....Or was there more to American involvement in Japan 1854 - 1861?

We don't think of America becoming an imperial nation until the late 19th/early 20th Centuries with the seizure of Hawaii and the Philippines.
 

SeaTurtle

Private
Joined
Jun 14, 2021
I wonder why that is. Obviously the Civil War had quite a lot to do with it....Or was there more to American involvement in Japan 1854 - 1861?

We don't think of America becoming an imperial nation until the late 19th/early 20th Centuries with the seizure of Hawaii and the Philippines.

Maybe we should remember that the US for most of the 19th century had its hands full with colonising its own interior. The colonial campaigns in places like the Philippines and Cuba came about when the "pacification" of the American frontier was already winding down.
 

SeaTurtle

Private
Joined
Jun 14, 2021
One interesting bit of US military involvement in Asia around (or just after) this period which is often forgotten is the expedition to Korea in 1871: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_expedition_to_Korea

The two commanding officers, Rear Admiral John Rodgers and Commander Winfield Schley, were both Civil War veterans. The motivations behind this expedition were somewhat similar to Perry's visit to Japan ... trying to force an isolationist Asian country to open up to western presence.
 

SeaTurtle

Private
Joined
Jun 14, 2021
Does anyone know how many Americans served in the Shanghai Volunteer Corps ca. 1860s? It would be interesting to know whether there were enough for them to have their own unit at that time, or if they were mixed in among other expats.
 

SeaTurtle

Private
Joined
Jun 14, 2021
I found the text below on the following website: https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2001/fall/confederate-fleet-1.html
Is anyone here able to elaborate on the claim that there were Confederate agents present in Shanghai and Bombay during the Civil War?

"Perhaps the most ambitious attempt to purchase finished ships involved the eight vessels of the Anglo-Chinese fleet built in Great Britain for China. These warships, called the Lay-Osborne flotilla for the leaders of the enterprise, were not accepted by the emperor of China after arriving in Chinese waters. Half of the fleet returned to Great Britain. Several others put into Bombay, where they were held until arrangements could be finalized for their sale and the payment of the crews.

There is little surviving direct evidence to connect the Lay-Osborne Anglo-Chinese fleet to the Confederacy. Circumstantial evidence supports that such a purchase was contemplated. CSS Alabama had shadowed the voyage of several ships of the flotilla from South Africa to the Strait of Malacca. The officers of Alabama and the flagship Kwang-Tung had even exchanged social visits in Simon's Bay, South Africa. A senior captain of the fleet had been a ship captain for Fraser, Trenholm & Company, the principal government business agents for the Confederacy in Europe. After the Indian government seized the ships, he returned to London and left immediately in command of the large new blockade-runner Lady Stirling. Despite the lack of contemporary evidence, the prospect of the entire mercenary fleet being sold to the Confederates led to swift action from the American diplomatic services. The British and Indian colonial governments seized the ships to prevent them from being transferred to the rebel navy. Only after the Civil War was over did the British government learn that Confederate agents had been in place in Shanghai and Bombay and that the sale might indeed have been completed. In any case, the Alabama returned to European waters alone."
 
Top