This week in the Civil War for November 16, 1864
This week in the Civil War for November 30, 1864

Chinese Yankee

Chineese Yankee

Ruthanne Lum McCunn, chronicles Thomas Sylvanus' story in her latest book, “Chinese Yankee

Born in Hong Kong as Aw Yee Way, Sylvanus was orphaned and lived in the care of an American woman who decided to bring him to the United States to be educated at age eight. She was in poor health and turned the child over to Dr. Sylvanus Mills, who was on board the same ship. 

Rather than being educated, Sylvanus was kept as a slave. When the Civil War broke out, he was 15. While in Baltimore running errands, he escaped and lied about his age so he could enlist in the 81st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. 

In “Chinese Yankee,” McCunn tells of the boredom and the battles Sylvanus saw while also describing the conditions and disease that blinded him. He was sent to a hospital to recover and eventually regained some of his sight, but his vision varied from poor to non-existent for the rest of his life. 

In spite of being almost blind and having been discharged with a disability, Sylvanus reenlisted twice. He served with the 51st Regiment, cleaning up after the battle of Gettysburg, then enlisted in the 42nd New York Infantry as a paid substitute for George Dearborn, who was buying his way out of the draft. In both cases, Sylvanus managed to hide the fact that his vision was so limited.

Read the full article by Jeanette Wolff: 

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