ca. 1880-1935: A Chinese Soldier in Nebraska

The state of Nebraska has at least two claims to fame among Chinese-Americans. First, in 1898 it hosted a world fair in which at least 177 Chinese participated. And second, it was the home of a truly remarkable Chinese immigrant, Edward Day Cohota.

Found as a 4 year-old stowaway on the American sailing ship Cohota en route from Shanghai to Massachusetts, he was adopted by the ship’s captain, Silas Day, and named after Day and the ship itself. In 1864 he joined the Union Army and fought in several battles of the Civil War. He rejoined the Army after the War. After serving at various military posts in Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Illinois (at Fort Sheridan, in suburban Chicago), he settled at Fort Niobrara near Valentine, Nebraska. He and his Swedish-American wife, whom he married in 1883, had six children. He died in 1935, ninety years after leaving Shanghai.

In 1929, an article in the Rapid City Daily Journal paid tribute to him:

“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.”

We now know that other Chinese fought in the American Civil War (1861-1865) too. There were at least sixty. None were Californians, a few were Southerners, and the rest lived on the East Coast. As far as we know, the only Chinese in the Midwest during the Civil War was Alla Lee in St. Louis (see above, 1857), and there is no evidence that he fought on either side..

For more information on Chinese in the Civil War, see Gordon Kwok’s excellent web site,
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