In 1865, conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker had retired from the sideshow life and were running a plantation in North Carolina when Eng was suddenly drafted to serve as a soldier in the Civil War.
The Thailand natives were living in Traphill, North Carolina as naturalized citizens when the Union army raided the area and drafted some of the locals to join their army, despite the fact that some of them, including the Bunker brothers, were Confederate supporters.
The raid was a part of Union General George Stoneman’s long cavalry raid throughout North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia that lasted from March till May of 1865. The Union troops had been ordered to “dismantle the country” but not to engage in battles, with the hopes that it would shorten the long war and finally bring it to an end.
Many historians consider the raid, which coincided with Sherman’s famous March to the Sea, as one of the longest cavalry raids in history. During Stoneman’s long campaign, his troops destroyed railways, burned bridges and factories, captured Confederate prisons and plundered many towns along the way, including Mount Airy, North Carolina, which neighbored Traphill.
According to an article on Smithsonian.com, After General Stoneman raided the town, he put the names of all local men over 18 years of age into a lottery wheel and selected names at random. Eng’s name was drawn but Chang’s wasn’t.
Since the conjoined twins could not be separated by surgery because their livers were fused, there wasn’t much that Stoneman could do.
According to the book Stoneman’s Raid, 1865, Stoneman ordered his troops to leave the men alone and forbade them from plundering the twin’s farm:
“Notable as the home of the famous Siamese twins Eng and Chang Bunker, Mount Airy added another important chapter to its history on April 2. Federal cavalrymen began arriving after dark and continued to come all night long. They rode into town along Main Street and soon found, to their chagrin, that cautious residents had hidden their horses and their valuables…A few troopers amused themselves by raiding the post office and reading the ‘liberated’ letters. Others paid a call on the Siamese Twins…In an attempt to shield the twins, Stoneman ordered his men to leave the Bunker’s property alone. At least one trooper disobeyed by grabbing a Bunker daughter while the twins and their children sat on a porch. The young lady slapped her captor, and the trooper sheepishly released her while his comrades laughed at him.”
Neither brother ended up fighting in the war although both of their eldest sons, Christopher Wren Bunker and Stephen Bunker, joined and fought for the Confederacy.
Both Christopher and Stephen survived the war but Christopher was captured and spent nearly a year as a prisoner of war at Camp Chase in Ohio in August of 1864.
Although the twins didn’t fight in the war, it still had an effect on them when it caused financial difficulties for Chang and Eng and forced them to return to show business in order to support their families. Chang soon began abusing alcohol and Eng developed a gambling problem during this stressful time.
The brothers toured Europe after the Civil War ended and met with various doctors in the hopes that they could be separated. All of the doctors advised against the surgery. While still on tour in Europe, Chang suffered a stroke and was partially paralyzed.
The twins returned home where Chang died less than a decade later from a bronchial infection and Eng followed him a few hours later.
Stoneman’s Raid, 1865; Chris Hartley
Touring the Carolinas’ Civil War Sites; Clint Johnson; 2011
North Carolina History: Stoneman’s Raid: http://northcarolinahistory.org/encyclopedia/stonemans-raid/
Smithsonian Magazine; The Civil War: 8 Strange and Obscure Facts You Didn’t Know; November 15, 2011: http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/history/2011/11/the-civil-war-8-strange-and-obscure-facts-you-didnt-know/