Veterans Day: Remembering Hawai‘i men who fought in the Civil War

The story of Civil War veterans from Hawai‘i has been a passion for Nanette Napoleon. The Historic Hawai‘i Foundation has awarded Nanette for her efforts in preserving historic burial sites across Hawai‘i through the  Hawai‘i Cemetery Research Project.

A highlight of her work is her collaboration with the Hawai‘i Civil War Roundtable in perpetuating the memory of Hawai‘i veterans who fought in the U.S. Civil War mostly for the northern Union, but also for the southern Confederacy.

Through their efforts a bronze memorial plaque commemorating the memory of the Hawai‘i Sons of the Civil War is now located along the Memorial Walk at the National Cemetery of the Pacific at Puowaina (Punchbowl) in Honolulu.

In addition, a tombstone for J. R. Kealoha, a Native Hawaiian Civil War soldier now stands at his once unmarked grave in O‘ahu Cemetery. without a tombstone.

Details about Nanette’s pioneering work in telling the history of Hawai‘i’s Civil War veterans (there are over 100) are told in the web post “The Surprising History Of Hawaiians In The Civil War,” which can be read on the Honolulu Civil Beat’s website.

General Samuel Chapman Armstrong

American missionary son Gen. Samuel Chapman Armstrong is the best known of Hawai‘i’s Civil War veterans. Chapman was born at Wailuku, Maui in 1839, the son of the Rev. Richard Armstrong of the Sandwich Islands Mission and his wife Clarissa Chapman Armstrong.

The Hampton Institute Library established by Hawai‘i Civil War veteran and missionary son Gen. Samuel Chapman Armstrong.

Upon graduation from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts – the site of the Haystack Prayer Meeting led in 1806 by Samuel Mills Jr. – Armstrong enlisted as an officer in the Union Army, following the lead of his older brother Richard. He is a notable Hawai‘i veteran for his heroic role in aiding in pushing back the famous Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, a turning point in a battle that some say decided the outcome of the Civil War. He rose to the rank of general following this action. In part due to his cross-culture youth spent in Hawai‘i, Armstrong was offered command of a company of black soldiers, the Colored Soldiers of the Civil War. Samuel’s sister Edith Armstrong Talbot wrote a well-written biography of her brother who went on to found the Hampton Institute in Virginia, a school for young freed slaves, following the Civil War. The training at Hampton was modeled on the Hilo Boarding School founded by missionary David Lyman in 1836.

Images are taken from The New England Magazine June 1892.

The Pilgrims Who Arrived in New England in 1620 Influenced Hawai‘i in 1820

The Pilgrim ship the Mayflower arrived off Cape Cod four hundred years ago today, on November 9, 1620.

The pioneer Hawai‘i Mission company sailed aboard the brig Thaddeus, a ship known in its day as the Mayflower of the Pacific, departing for the Hawaiian Islands from the Long Wharf in Boston on October 23, 1819. This 163-day voyage taken around Cape Horn brought evangelical Christianity to Hawai‘i, changing the Islands forever.

The sending of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions company came at the request of Native Hawaiian scholar Henry ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia. Henry died of typhus fever at about the age of thirty at the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut in February 1818. His dying wish was to return to Hawai‘i and to fulfill his plans to join with American missionaries in bringing the Gospel to the Hawaiian Islands.

Model of brig Thaddeus was displayed in the History Room of Mokuaikaua Church in Kailua, Kona. The Thaddeus was 85 feet long, with a beam of 24 feet. 

The Rev. Lyman Beecher, pastor of the Litchfield Congregational Church in Litchfield, Connecticut mentored ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia following his baptism at Torringford, Connecticut in 1814. Henry and his fellow Hawaiian scholars at the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut were welcomed into the Beecher home. Beecher rose to become one of the most renowned ministers in New England in the 1820s. The Litchfield pastor preached the sermon at Henry’s funeral at the Cornwall Center Cemetery in February 1818.

Lyman Beecher presents a clear picture of the Pilgrim-Hawai‘i tie in his landmark sermon “The Memory of Our Fathers” given at Plymouth in November 1827. Beecher told the gathering, “If we look at our missionaries abroad [n.b. in Hawai‘i, Ceylon, Burma, elsewhere], and witness the smiles of heaven upon their efforts, our confidence, that it is the purpose of God to render our nation a blessing to the world, will be increased. In talents, and piety, and learning, and doctrine, and civil policy, they are the legitimate descendants of the Puritans.”

In the United States Capitol Building in Washington D.C. hangs a grand painting of the Pilgrim departure from Holland. Pilgrim leader William Bradford. In his book History of Plymouth Plantation, the first book written in New England, Bradford quoted their pastor John Robinson who declared a prophecy over the departing Pilgrims. Bradford, rather than seeing the Pilgrims as just fleeing the Old World for religious freedom, portrayed Robinson as sending off the Pilgrims as missionaries. Bradford emphasized this by quoting Robinson:

(They had) a great hope & inward zeal they had of laying some good foundation, or at least to make some way thereunto, for ye propagating & advancing ye gospel of ye kingdom of Christ in these remote parts of ye world; yea, though they should be but as stepping-stones unto others for ye performing of so great a work.

The Pilgrims land at Plymouth (Library of Congress)


Grand plans to commemorate in April 2020 in Hawai‘i the arrival of the pioneer Mission Company, and in November 2020 in Plymouth, Massachusetts the arrival of the Pilgrims, have both been postponed due to the covid-19 epidemic.

Keep an eye on the Hawaiian Mission Houses website for updates on a possible rescheduling for April 2021 of the postponed pioneer company arrival events.

In Plymouth, the events are now rescheduled for April 2021.

The restored Mayflower II is featured in Sea History for Fall 2020. Click to read the news about the ship’s return to Plymouth from a three-year restoration at Mystic Seaport shipyard.

Events for the Hawai‘i Mission Departure Bicentennial were held in Boston at the Park Street Church, and across New England in October 2020.

Bicentennial events for the Hawai‘i arrival of the Sandwich Islands Mission had been planned for April 2020 in Kailua-Kona, in Honolulu, and in Waimea, Kaua‘i.

To celebrate the bicentennial of the formation of their church in 1820, the Historic Kawaiaha‘o Church in Honolulu has been hosting a monthly speakers series via Speakers focuses on the history of the historic church.