|J. R. Kealoha|
|Died||March 5, 1877|
|Buried at||Oʻahu Cemetery, Honolulu, Oʻahu, Kingdom of Hawaiʻi|
United States of America|
|Years of service||1864–1865|
|Unit||41st Regiment Infantry U.S. Colored Troops|
J. R. Kealoha (died 1877) was a citizen of the Kingdom of Hawaii, who was among a small number of Hawaiians who fought in the American Civil War. Serving in a United States Colored regiment, Kealoha participated in the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign and was present at the unconditional surrender of Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.
After the outbreak of the American Civil War, the Kingdom of Hawaii under King Kamehameha IV declared its neutrality. However, many Native Hawaiians and Hawaii-born Americans (mainly descendants of the American missionaries) abroad and in the islands volunteered and enlisted in the military regiments of other states. Native Hawaiian participants in the American wars, during its period of independence, was not an unheard phenomenon. Individual native Hawaiians have been serving in the United States Navy and Army since the War of 1812, and even more served during the American Civil War. Many Hawaiians personally sympathized with the Union because of New England ties to Hawaii through its missionaries and the whaling industries, and the ideological opposition of many to the institution of slavery.
Little is known about the life of J. R. Kealoha before the war. He enlisted in 1864 as a private and was assigned to the 41st Regiment Infantry U.S. Colored Troops (USCT), a colored regiment formed in Camp William Penn, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the autumn of 1864. Most Native Hawaiians who participated in the war were assigned to the colored regiments because of their dark skin color and the segregationist policy in the military at the time. Kealoha is one of the few Hawaiian soldiers of the Civil War whose real name is known. Many combatants served under anglicized pseudonyms because they were easier to pronounce than Hawaiian language names and they were registered as kanakas, the 19th-century term for Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, with the Sandwich Islands (i.e. Hawaii) as their place of origin.
Kealoha fought in the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, also known more popularly as the Siege of Petersburg. During the campaign, Kealoha and another Hawaiian named Kaiwi, of the 28th Regiment United States Colored Troops, came across Samuel Chapman Armstrong, a son of an American missionary and a native of Maui. Armstrong wrote of the encounter in a letter which was published in the missionary newspaper The Friend in 1865:
Yesterday, as my orderly was holding my horse, I asked him where he was from. He said he was from Hawaii! He proved to be a full-blood Kanaka, by the name of Kealoha, who came from the Islands last year. There is also another, by the name of Kaiwi, who lived near Judge Smith's, who left the Islands last July. I enjoyed seeing them very much and we had a good jabber in kanaka. Kealoha is a private in the 41st Regiment US Colored Troops, and Kaiwi is a Private in the 28th U.S.C.T., in the pioneer corps. Both are good men and seemed glad to have seen me.
He survived nine months of trench warfare during Richmond-Petersburg Campaign and with the 41st USCT regiment fought at the Battle of Appomattox Court House and was among those present at the unconditional surrender of Confederate general Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. The 41st USCT regiment was disbanded on December 14, 1865. After the war, Kealoha returned to Hawaii. He died on March 5, 1877 and was buried with eighteen other Native Hawaiians, in an unmarked grave in Oahu Cemetery, Honolulu.
For 137 years, his burial site remained unmarked until a Hawaiian group affiliated with the organization Hawaii Civil War Roundtable consisting of Anita Manning, Nanette Napoleon, Eric Mueller and Justin Vance started the effort to give Kealoha a grave marker. The group petitioned the United States Department of Veterans Affairs for a marker for Kealoha but the request was denied since there were no next of kin to approve the request. After the request's denial, Honor Life Memorials, a local monument maker, donated a granite marker for J. R. Kealoha. This memorial marker was formally dedicated and unveiled on October 25, 2014 with the Civil War Round Table of Hawaii and others taking part in the dedication ceremony at Oahu Cemetery. Besides his name, regiment and death date, the marker inscription bears in Hawaiian: "He Koa Hanohano, a brave and honorable soldier."
Other Hawaiian veterans of the Civil War are honored in Honolulu's National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific with a bronze memorial plaque which was erected in 2010 in recognition of the "Hawaiʻi Sons of the Civil War," the more than one hundred documented Hawaiians who served for both the Union and the Confederacy. As of 2014, researchers have identified 119 documented Hawaiian and Hawaii-born combatants from historical records. The exact number still remains unclear because of the lack of records. Of the 48 identified Native Hawaiian combatants including James Wood Bush and Henry Hoolulu Pitman, Kealoha is the only one buried in the Hawaii whose gravesite is known.
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