Edward Cohota was born near Shanghai, China, in the 1840s. His last name was derived from a ship called “Cohota,” which was owned by an American captain in Shanghai. That captain took in the young Cohota and his older brother in 1845 after the pair traveled to the port of Shanghai, where they were found malnourished and sick. Twelve years later in 1857, the captain sold his ship and moved back home to Massachusetts, where Cohota grew up at the Captain Elias Davis House, which is now owned by the Cape Ann Museum.
Cohota enlisted in the Union Army in 1864. He served for over a year with the 23rd Massachusetts Infantry, with which he fought in battles that included Cold Harbor, Petersburg and Appomattox Courthouse. During the war, he had been shot seven times in just the three months after enlisting, though he was able to avoid serious injury. He also often risked his own life to save others. At Cold Harbor, he dragged to safety a fellow soldier and escorted him to medical help after the end of the battle.
After the end of the Civil War, Cohota attempted to find work near his home in Gloucester, Mass., but after failing to do so, moved to Boston. There, he met old friends from the Army and eventually reenlisted in that branch, joining the 15th U.S. Infantry. From there, he served for another 30 years. He first served for 20 years with Company C in Fort Randall, Dakota Territory. There, he performed several duties and met his future wife, Anna, whom he married sometime in his 30s. After Fort Randall, Cohota moved to Company H, where he served as a cook and a baker at Fort Niobrara in Nebraska.
After retirement, Cohota moved to Valentine, Neb., where he opened a restaurant. In 1899, his wife died during the birth of the couple’s sixth child. Soon, Cohota himself fell ill and struggled to care for his children. He thus put his three youngest children up for adoption. Tragedy struck Cohota again in 1910, when his restaurant burned down, though he later rebuilt it.
Cohota submitted a homestead application in 1912. Unknowingly to him, however, he was not a U.S. citizen, so his application was denied. For the next several years, he attempted to acquire citizenship, but the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act prohibited Chinese immigrants from pursuing this goal. Thus, despite his service in the Army, Cohota never became a citizen.
Toward the end of his life, Cohota returned to his hometown, Gloucester, where he visited his adult children, the soldier he had saved at Cold Harbor and the family of the captain who had taken him in as a child. Afterward, Cohota moved to South Dakota, where he remained at a Veterans home. He died a few years later in 1935 while in his 90s.
We honor his service.