In 1861 Hawaii’s ruler, King Kamehameha IV, declared the Kingdom of Hawai’i to be neutral in the American Civil War. Despite this neutrality, Native Hawaiians did served on both the Union and Confederate sides of the American Civil War. Hawai’i had ties to the North through its missionaries and whaling industry, which led to the services of the Union side.

Henry Ho’olulu Pitman was born in Hilo and fought for the Union Army. He was the son of Benjamin Pitman of Boston and Kino’ole O Liliha, the last Hawaiian high chiefess of Hilo. At 18/19 years old Henry Ho’olulu Pitman died as a prisoner of war at the Confederate South’s Libby Prison.

Hapa Haole James Bush, White father, Hawaiian mother, felt it was his duty to serve in the Union Navy. Upon discharge he received a veteran’s pension when he was older. Several dozen Punahou School students joined the Union Army, It is documented that five were killed in the war. Most of the Hawaiians who served for the South were sailors on whaling ships which were captured by the Confederates. Hawaiian whalers had the option of being a prisoner of the South or serving as crew members of the Shenandoah.


Private J.R. Kealoha, a Native Hawaiian soldier who fought in America’s Civil War, died in 1877 and is buried at the historic Oahu Cemetery. Kealoha is just one of 119 identified sons of Hawaii who fought in the Civil War. Little are known about them because most Hawaiians served under anglicized names because they were easier to pronounce.

It is unclear of the exact number of Hawaiian solders due to less than adequate records and that many were registered under different names being assigned to the colored regiments. It is reported that approximately 30 Civil War veterans who later died in Hawai’i are buried under the “Grand Army of the Republic” Organization. A memorial plaque is on display at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl. The plaque is dedicated to Hawaiians who served in the war between 1861- 1865.