Sikhs in the Yankee Army

As we tweeted earlier, here is an intriguing picture: A Sikh American Civil War veteran [via Sikhnet]

Here is the caption as to the origin of the picture:

I came across this photograph recently. It is a photo of British veterans of the American Civil War of 1861-65. The British veterans had gathered in London in 1917 to welcome the American troops on their way to Fight in France during World War One. Among them is (I believe ) a Sikh gentlemen sitting near the centre. I am curious to see if there were any Sikhs in the US army at this time.I am trying to discover this persons story as it is seems very interesting. Any insight in this matter would be most appreciated. -R.S. Kooner

Keep in mind that service in the U.S. military has always been one path to citizenship.

31 thoughts on “Sikhs in the Yankee Army

  1. Though it doesn’t detail the service of this particular man Terry Foenande has done pretty good research on Civil War sailors from East Asia and the subcontinent: http://www.tfoenander.com/asians.html – I don’t believe there were very many Sikh lascars in any navy but there were clearly a number of other Indian participants in the Civil War

  2. Is it possible that a couple of those guys were just people at some event who happened to be guests and were asked to join in one of the pictures? And one of them was the Sikh guy?

  3. Or it could just be some white guy who decided to wear a turban for kicks after seeing a Sikh around town. He already had the facial hair.

  4.   Its not clear whether this man was a Sikh or not. facial hair and turban were de rigueur for gentlemen during that period in many regions of the subcontinent. its a good guess, but i'd say we just call him a desi unless that pagdi is unambiguously from patiala or some such
    
  5. my intention is not to stir the pot, i am genuinely curious as to why, instead of “sikhs in the yankee army”, you didn’t label your post, “indians in the yankee army” or “punjabis ……” or even, “south asians in ………”?

  6. Kautilya | November 18, 2010 12:23 PM | Reply my intention is not to stir the pot, i am genuinely curious as to why, instead of “sikhs in the yankee army”, you didn’t label your post, “indians in the yankee army” or “punjabis ……” or even, “south asians in ………”?

    Test

  7. Kautilya | November 18, 2010 12:23 PM | Reply my intention is not to stir the pot, i am genuinely curious as to why, instead of “sikhs in the yankee army”, you didn’t label your post, “indians in the yankee army” or “punjabis ……” or even, “south asians in ………”?

    Kautilya,

    It’s good to stir the pot, or else the sediments at the bottom will burn, thus ruining everything. The answer to your question is simple: North Indians, in general, and any light-skinned group in particular are quick to distance themselves from the other Indians.

    If you read how the various Northern Indian groups perceive themselves on Wikipedia, you’ll know what I’m talking about. For example, “[People with the surname 'Malhotras'] claim ancestry from Lipka Tatars” and “Kapoor Khatris claim Caucasian Avar and Chuvash ancestry.”

    So, in another words, if you were to tell certain Northern Indians that their ancestors were Finns, Siberians, horse-milk drinking Tatars, or even Central Asians (i.e. from Borat’s village), you will endear them. However, if you were to tell a Northern Indian that their pedigree may include some Dravidian/South Indian, you will run the risk of alienating them.

    This revision of their history is part of the reason why many Sikhs have Khalistani sentiments. I don’t get the impression that they are proud to say that they are “Indian”, but they are very proud to say that they are “Punjabi”.

  8. Whatever the case, Indians/Desi/Subcontinentites have proudly served in multiple military roles throughout history and this nugget of a picture is an awesome testament to our presence in the fight against tyranny.

  9. Bengal Tigrrrr | November 19, 2010 5:33 PM | Reply Whatever the case, Indians/Desi/Subcontinentites have proudly served in multiple military roles throughout history and this nugget of a picture is an awesome testament to our presence in the fight against tyranny.

    You’re wrong. Indians have served in their colonial master’s army as mercenaries. Revisionists portray Sikhs as being at the vanguard of India’s defense, but this is patently false. The SEPIA MUTINY itself was put down by Sikhs who were having their revenge on other Indians who screwed the Sikhs over during the Anglo-Sikh Wars a decade or so earlier.

  10. bengal tigrrrr – “Indians/Desi/Subcontinentites have proudly served in multiple military roles throughout history”

    statements like yours help explain how massive india was ruled by the puny british for nearly two centuries.

    can you imagine the americans making a similarly laudatory statement about any americans helping the british suppress general george washington’s army during the revolutionary war. and, btw, the americans were treated way better by the english than the dark skinned indians, who were relegated to third class status in their own country.

    only in india will you find people bragging about their grand pappy being conferred with titles like “rai bahadur” by the brits, as a reward for helping keep his own compatriots colonized.

    only in india will you find the descendants of the rajas and nawabs who collabarated with their colonial masters get elected to the indian parliament, become ministers and bollywood super stars or just live a nice life of luxury, while the progeny of those who fought for indian independence are either dead or living in obscure penury.

    • Amen, Kautilya.

      Most of the elite in India–Congress Party, esp.–were collaborators of the colonizers.

    • Kautilya,

      I’m sure you’ve heard of the “Martial Races Theory”? According to this theory, the Indian Subcontinent is inhabited by certain “Martial Races” who are inherently better at warfare than the “Effeminate Races”.

      Typically, a “Martial Race” consisted of one that sided with the British during the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny, and an “Effeminate Race” consisted of one that rebelled.

  11. Interesting. I wonder why he moved to London, if he did. Also, ‘British’ veterans seems like a premature conclusion to come to, given the signage and the reason.

    Anyway, look forward to finding out what happened. Thanks!

  12. And here’s more info:

    One of the photographs, however, presents a real mystery – one of the 14 men, wearing a ribbon or medal like the rest of them, very clearly appears to be a Sikh; no record of any practicing Sikh in the Union armies or navies has been found, and efforts to identify him have so far failed. Other photographs show at least one Black veteran, probably Private William Silkerd, 4th U.S.C.T.

    http://www.americancivilwar.org.uk/news_the-london-branch-of-american-civil-war-veterans-1910-1933_192.htm

    • It’s not likely that he was with the British when called upon to serve in the US Civil War, mainly because the British supported the Confederacy, not the Union, in the war.

  13. TTCUSM – Cassius: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

  14. You have to study the book In The Shadows of The Himalays which is story of how and when the Presbeyterian Church in Pennsylvania sent its missionaries to Punjab after the fall of Maharaja Ranjit Singhs Kindom in 1849. The first nmission was established in Rawalpindi Punjab by AC Gordon and family and over a period they converted about 150000 people to christian faith and broght lot of people in to America which we need to investigate the normal history is that people came to sanfrancisco in 1896 but my gut feeling is that people from punjab or sikhs from other states like bengal bihar and assam might have come earlier. Bhagat Singh Thind joined the US army in 1918 and retired in 1918. thanks avtar singh dhami

  15. The Sikh in the picture is real. He was a young lad without turban and beard when he first joined the Union Army during the American Civil War. He, like many East Indians and other Asians came via Canada. They were British educated and some were light skinned. Some were dark-skinned. Some had Anglo names, some Hispanic names. Some joined white regiments, some colored. There were many. As for the old US Civil War veterans in this picture, this is real. Old men in 1917 cheering American and British troops going off toe France to fight the Germans. I joined the US Air Force in 1968. I was cleaned shaven, typical American lad. I am now 61 and a veteran. I adopted the Sikh faith in 1971 when I was discharged. I am American (in fact 11th generation) but I have white beard and mustache, long gray hair and I wear a Daastar (turban). I work for DHS (5 years). SO this is very feasible. Since I know the history and study the Civil War, am a Sikh-American myself, I find this very sound.