They were as close as brothers could be.
Asian immigrants who had decided to make their home in North Carolina, they quickly overcame local prejudice, married sisters and settled down into a prosperous agricultural lifestyle. An avid proponent of states rights, one was drafted to fight in the Civil War and eagerly sought to serve, but was ultimately unable because of a serious congenital condition. But they each sent a son to fight for the South, and the young cousins were both wounded and captured before they eventually were returned home to their families. After the war, the brothers faced the loss of their slaves, property, and most of their means of making a living. In short, they were much like thousands of other brothers in the American South during the 1860s, with one singular exception: a five-and-a-half-inch band of cartilage and flesh connecting them at the chest.
By 1839, Chang and Eng Bunker, the "original" Siamese Twins, had saved some money from their years of travel with various museum curiosity tours and exhibitions. They decided to settle down in North Carolina, purchasing 110 acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains. They married sisters, after persevering through the initial outrage and prejudice of the locals and the girls’’ parents, and became respected members of their community. Though they had been fishermen in Siam, they studied agriculture and soon had a very successful farming business. They were among the first to produce the "bright leaf" tobacco which was much prized for manufacturing cigarettes, and grew grains and raised livestock, with the help of their slaves. The brothers' ownership of slaves during the antebellum period was highly ironic, given the fact that they had themselves been sold into slavery as children.
Both brothers became devoted Confederates. After becoming Naturalized citizens, they took an oath of allegiance to the state of North Carolina and were avid supporters of states rights. During the War, in 1865, Union Gen. Stoneman came through North Carolina. Putting all of the names of the males over 18 into a draft lottery. Eng’s name was drawn. He resisted the draft and since his brother’s name was not drawn, the Union finally decided not to force him to serve. The brothers did the best they could to aid the war effort, however, offering shelter and food to Confederate troops and helping to nurse the wounded.
They also raised their children to be staunch supporters of the Confederacy, and the eldest sons of each enlisted as soon as they were of age to serve. Chang's son, Christopher, fought in Company I of the 37th Battalion of the Virginia Cavalry under BG McCausland. In July 1864 he was wounded and captured at Moorefield, WV, and served time in Camp Chase until he was released to his family in April 1865. His cousin Stephen had a similar experience, having enlisted in the same cavalry battalion in July 1864. He escaped the ambush at Moorefield but went on to be captured and wounded near Winchester, VA. The two cousins settled down after the war and became farmers as their fathers had done.
The Civil War devastated but did not destroy the Bunker families. Chang and Eng both lost slaves and property, though Eng was hardest hit. Before the war, the brothers had divided up their fortunes, with Chang choosing the bulk of the land and Eng the slaves. While Eng had the financial upper hand during the antebellum period, losing his slaves after the war cost him most of his assets. To this day, his descendants consider themselves to be the "poor side of the family." Chang and Eng returned to touring for awhile and managed to earn a little money, but never to the standard of living that they had enjoyed before the war. But when they died, they were remembered not as a freakish monster cursed by their very birth, but as dignified, respected men, who had made full and comfortable lives for themselves and their families within the southern culture that they had come to love.
*pronounced "Chun" and "In"