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  Chinese Civil War Veteran

( Chinese immigrant who fought for freedom in America.)

Chinaman Served in Civil War; At Fort Niobrara

(Published in Western Outlook, Ogallala, during early 1970s. Exact date unknown. Written by Will Spindler as told to him by Elizabeth Cohota Bouza.)

With the passing at Parmalee, South Dakota, on Nov. 18, 1935, of Edward Day Cohota, nearly 93, the United States lost one of its most colorful and revered citizens, as well as the only full-blood Chinese to serve in the Union Army during the Civil War.

On December 27, 1845, Captain Silas S. Day left Shanghai, China, on his ship Cohota. Two days later two small Chinese boys were discovered aboard the ship. They were half starved and did not know their names.

This left Captain Day in a dilemma. He decided not to turn back, rather to raise the boys as his own. They were about six and four years old. The eldest boy died a few days later and was buried at sea.

He named the little survivor Edward Day and brought him up aboard the Cohota and in his home. Edward became interested in the sea, and when old enough he became a cabin boy.

When the captain retired he took Edward to his home at Gloucester, Massachusetts, where he grew up. And when Edward wanted another name, he was named after the ship on which he was found; Edward Day Cohota. December 27, the day he was found aboard ship, was taken as his birthday.

In February of 1864, Edward joined the 23rd Massachusetts Infantry and served his adopted country through the rest of the Civil War. Part of his time was served under General Ulysses S. Grant. At the battle of Cold Harbor, a bullet grazed his head which left a permanent part in his hair. At the end of the war in 1865 he was mustered out at New Bern, North Carolina.

Returning to Gloucester he could find no work so he returned to the sea. While in Boston he met a recruiting sergeant whom he had known in the service. In the fall of 1866, he re-enlisted and was soon on his way to Texas. He said his longest walk was when his outfit marched from Kit Carson, Kansas, to San Antonio, Texas. Blisters formed on his shoulder from carrying a heavy rifle and blisters covered his feet from shoes too large.

Edward served in Texas; New Mexico; Fort Sheridan, Illinois; Fort Randall, South Dakota; and Fort Niobrara, near Valentine, Nebraska. While at Fort Randall he said he stood guard over Indian chief Sitting Bull and spoke of him as a friendly chief.

In 1883 Edward and Anna Halstensen were married in the Episcopal Church at Fort Randall, a large church built in 1875 of native chalk rock by the soldiers and pioneer settlers.

Six children were born to the couple: Lucy Ingaborg, Edward Wood, Elizabeth "Lizzy" Dorothea, William Day, Daisy Mary and Miles, who died as an infant. Anna Day died February 13, 1899, and was buried at Fort Niobrara near Valentine.

After Anna's death, Cohota cared for the children until he became ill. The three youngest were sent to the Nebraska Children's Home in Omaha. All were sent to different homes.

In 1907 Lizzy forwarded a chain letter to Lucy and addressed to Fort Niobrara, which had closed in 1906. But the letter reached Lucy and Lizzie returned to the old family home to initiate efforts to locate Willie and Daisy.

Not until 1919 did they locate Willie in South Carolina where he was in the U.S. Army. He came home for Christmas. Daisy was not located until 1934 when Edward Day was a resident of Battle Mountain sanitarium at Hot Springs, South Dakota. At that time an inmate of his ward noticed the name plate, Cohota, on the bed and asked if he had relatives in Nebraska. The man's father had adopted a little girl named Daisy Cohota in 1900.

Edward contacted Lucy who wrote to Daisy in California where she lived with her architect husband and three sons. "My father's wish has been fulfilled," Daisy wrote. "I am Daisy, his long-lost daughter and I am so anxious to know everything."

Daisy said her adoptive mother remembered how she talked about her family all of the time and knew her father was good to her because she loved him so.

In 1934 Daisy came home for a visit so Edward Day Cohota managed to see all of his family once again before he died. At the time Lucy Kraus lived in Parmalee, South Dakota; Lizzie Bouza in White River, South Dakota; Edward W. in Valentine, Nebraska; William in Chicago, Illinois; and Daisy Martin in California.

Edward Day Cohota died on November 18, 1935 and was buried November 20 at Mt. Hope Cemetery, Valentine, Nebraska. Last rites were performed by Minnechadusa Lodge 192 A.F. & A.M. He was a life member of Arcania Lodge 97 of Armour, South Dakota, in which he was raised to the sublime degree of a Master Mason in 1884.

The author contacted Captain Day's daughter and she confirmed how two Chinese boys were found on board the ship, Cohota, two days out of Shanghai on December 27, 1845. Captain Day's home had become a museum.

While reminiscing, Lizzie Cohota Bouza said: "In 1898, in spite of his 30 years of army service, Dad wanted to enlist again to help his adopted country whip Spain. But he couldn't go then as Mother was ill and he had six children to support. After Mother's death, he went into the restaurant business in Valentine. Then in 1917, because of failing health, he entered the Battle Mountain sanitarium at Hot Springs, South Dakota, where he spent a number of years."

In 1928 Cohota had gone back to Gloucester to review his boyhood and there met a man who said Cohota had carried him from the battlefield in the battle of Cold Harbor by the name of William E. Low.

An incidence that Cohota often related to his children with amusement was that he had voted the Republican ticket for 30 years before he discovered he was not a citizen of the United States. President Lincoln has said that all soldiers serving in the Civil War would automatically become citizens. But the president's assassination took place before that could become law.

About 1929, an article in the Rapid City Daily Journal gave tribute to Edward Day Cohota:

"It is not an uncommon thing to see a grand old gentleman at the national sanitarium standing uncovered and at attention at "flag-down." This refined, splendid looking old gentleman, who stands with such reverence and respect for the flag of his adopted country, is Edward Day Cohota, the only native-born Chinaman who went through the Civil War.

"His retirement pay was still coming when he arrived at the sanitarium, but he soon took a final discharge from the army and applied for a pension as a Civil War veteran. His claim was allowed at $72 per month."

(A letter reprinted June 9, 1899, in the Republican, Valentine, Nebraska, adds more information. The letter dated June 4, 1899 to Mrs. Charles Sherman in Valentine was from her sister, Irma Allen, in Omaha. Allen possibly was employed or a volunteer at the Nebraska Children's Home.

The letter told of the death of "our little Chinese Baby Miles Cohota. We had all learned to love him very dearly and had several homes in view for him."

She said, however, that he had not been well and that abscesses had formed on his leg although he was under treatment by "one of the best physicians in the city."

Allen wrote that Baby Miles was placed in a "pretty coffin" and buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery, Omaha, with Rev. Phillips, "one of the state board," officiating.)

His son Edward W. died in 1958 and is buried at Mt. Hope Cemetery.

Footnote: It has been discovered that since this article was written, that 47 Chinese men have been found who have served in the Civil War. Please look at the links provided below for further information. Commemorate the Chinese Serving in the American Civil War-part 1
Assosciatioin to Commemorate the Chinese Serving in the American Civil War, part 5

Posted by Marianne Beel, local Nebraska historian and writer.