New paper details Hawai‘i and Hawaiians’ surprising roles in the U.S. Civil War

October 16, 2012

Justin Vance

Justin Vance, Ed.D.

HONOLULU – The U.S. Civil War remains one of the defining moments of American history, not only affecting the nation, but also the future state of  Hawai‘i. New research published by a Hawai‘i Pacific University history professor documents the significant role of Hawaiians in the war for the first time, confirming more than 100 Hawaiian soldiers and sailors who served in the conflict.

“Native Hawaiians participated on both sides of the Civil War,” said Justin Vance, Ed.D., assistant professor of History and assistant dean of Military Campus Programs. “There were 114 Hawaiian-born troops, mostly in the Union.”

(Historical aside: Twenty-one of those individuals had attended Hawai‘i’s Punahou School, known more recently as President Barack Obama’s high school alma mater.)

The Effects of the American Civil War on Hawai‘i and the Pacific World” was published by Vance and co-author Anita Manning, an associate in Cultural Studies at Honolulu’s Bishop Museum, in the October issue of the history journal World History Connected.

“Hawaii’s close relationship economically, diplomatically and socially with the United States ensured that the wake of the American Civil War reached the Hawaiian Islands,” according to Vance and Manning. “The wake of the American Civil War reached and changed the Kingdom of Hawaii and the Pacific. It influenced the diplomatic decisions and interrupted treaty pursuits.”

The paper also includes speculation on why Hawaiians joined the military, political and economic discussion on domestic and international politics, and economic discussions of whaling and sugar.

“The Hawaiian sugar industry was born out of the American Civil War,” state the authors as they chart the course of the local sugar industry during the conflict, which also saw the decline of the whaling industry. “The war created high market prices, as Southern grown sugar was no longer available to the markets of the Northern states.”

Eventually, the sugar industry would become a dominant force in Hawai‘i’s economic and cultural (through immigrant labor) growth.

The new examination of Hawai‘i’s role in the Civil War is valuable, according to World History Connected guest editor Helen Grady, a retired teacher of world history, who said it will give history teachers “additional ways to expand their thinking about the Civil War.”

Grady lauded various “global elements” addressed in the paper, including a look at other independence issues in the mid-19th century, the increase in immigrant labor and foreign policy issues in Hawai‘i before and during the war.

Vance is also leading a special program at Kapolei Public Library, “Making Sense of the American Civil War,” in partnership with the Hawai‘i Council for the Humanities. The reading and discussion program examines different facets of the Civil War. It started this month and continues into December. See http://hihumanities.org/making-sense-of-the-american-civil-war-2/

In addition to his work at HPU, Vance is president of the Hawai‘i Civil War Round Table, an organization that perpetuates the study of the Civil War in the community.

World History Connected is online at http://worldhistoryconnected.press.illinois.edu/.