Introducing the Research Work of Ruthanne Lum McCunn on Chinese serving in the American Civil War
Acknowledgment: The webmaster is very grateful thatMs. Ruthanne Lum McCunn has granted her permission for me to reference her research work in this web site. Of course, the credit of the research goes 100% to Ms. McCunn. I would like to acknowledge the Chinese Historical Society of America (CHSA) for the courtesy of allowing me to use her article, published in their Journal, (and click on "CHSA Resources"), Chinese America: History and Perspectives. The title of her article is : Chinese in the Civil War: Ten Who Served, written in 1995 (c), and it was printed in the year 1996.
I would like to thank Historian Him Mark Lai for paving the way for me to contact Ms. McCunn. Also I would like to thank Mr. Benjamin Lee for introducing Mr. Lai to me. Without the assistance of both of these gentlemen, the launching of this webpage would have been impossible.
It is the depth and detail of the research that impresses the webmaster most, even though their names were known to the webmaster. The webmaster would like to emphasize that this web site is intended to incorporate the works of several or many contributors, with a common goal: to honor the early Chinese immigrants who fought for freedom for their host in America. It was certainly not their war, and yet they served.
Ms. McCunn is one of the pioneers who had researched and published the subject: Chinese serving in the American Civil War, in a systematic and comprehensive manner in 1995. (And the other one is Terry Foenander who did the same independently, in the early 1990's) Prior than that, there were other researchers who had mentioned the Chinese in the Civil War, but only in bits and pieces of information. For example, Author George R. Stewart's Pickett's Charge: A Microhistory of the Final Attack at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1959, has one single sentence mentioning Chinese participation; Arthur Bonner's The Chinese in New York 1800-1950, unpublished manuscript, has several pages on the Chinese fighting in the war; Charlie Chin's article "Different Shades of Blue and Gray" printed in The New Asians Standard, (August 1991):18,19., recorded five Chinese fighting for the Union and two for the Confederacy. The webmaster would like to emphasize that I am referencing Ms. McCunn's writing with her kind permission and the credit goes to her 100%. I did some editing on the selected persons and tried to avoid repeating the same story, if the persons had already been featured by a different authors on my webpages.
About the Contributor
Ruthanne Lum McCunn was born in San Francisco's Chinatown. She grew up in Hong Kong but returned to San Francisco to attend college. She has worked as a teacher, librarian, and writer, with books that include the novel Thousand Pieces of Gold; the highly-acclaimed Chinese American Portraits: Personal Histories 1828-1988; Sole Survivor; and a bilingual children's book, Pie-Biter. She lives in San Francisco and is currently at work on a new novel.
Ms. McCunn used not only military records, but also pension files, newspapers, family papers, reminiscences, archival documents, and published accounts of the Civil War to reconstruct the lives of her portraits, shown as follows:
Picture credit: Tom Lowry
Picture credit: Reporter Sam Chu Lin, Special to AsianWeek, who most likely got the photo from Sharon O'Connor, Cohota's great-granddaughter
Edward Day Cohota at Valentine, Nebraska, around 1880. Photo courtesy of South Dakota Historical Society, State Archives.
Here is the story / research by Ms. McCunn. The webmaster takes the liberty to do some editing, to add a little background information and to incorporate Ruthanne's research references in the story.
Sea Captain Sargent S. Day and his wife were sailing on the square-rigged ship named Cohota about two days from Shanghai, China, on December 27, 1845, and discovered two little half-starved Chinese boys on board. The older boy, about six, died at sea despite all efforts to save him. The younger boy, about four, survived, and he was named Edward. Edward's last name was Cohota, the name of the ship that had saved him, and to the ship he owed his life. In a sense, the ship gave him a new life, and his new life was named after the ship, Cohota. Since Captain Day "adopted" Edward, It would be appropriate to use Day, as Edward's middle name.
In later years, when reporters interviewed Edward, he said he was born in Scow Jow (the city of Scow or So), 60 miles from Shanghai and left China when he was about five years old. His father was drown in a flood of the Yangtze River. He wandered down the docks and was there picked up as a stray by Captain Day.
Captain Day brought Edward to Massachusetts. Mrs. Day, a school teacher, taught their two children as they continued their journey. Edward became a cabin boy. When the Captain retired, sold the ship Cohota in 1857, and they took Edward to their home in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where they lived in a big square house in Captain's Rowon Pleasant Street. Day bought a wharf, built three first-class fishing vessels and engaged in the fishing business. Cohota, affectionately known as Ned, went to school. This fact showed that Cohota was educated and knew how to read and write. But his enlistment paper has an X in place of a signature.
Ms. McCunn located Edward Day Cohota's great-grandson, Melville Brown who introduced Ms. McCunn to Cohota's granddaughter, Marilu Cooper. Ms. Cooper shared her grandfather's history through a telephone interview, wonderfully detailed letters, and Cohota's personal papers, newspaper clippings, and photographs. In the source used, Cohota is spelled in different variation, such as, Cohata or Cahota. Ruthanne also used Cohota's daughter, Elizabeth Bouza's writing. One of such letter (Oct 14, 1965), was drawn heavily by Barbara Erkkila, in an untitled article, North Shore'70, May 23, 1970; files of Cape Anne Historical Association (hereafter cited as North Shore; and Olive Van Metre, North Country, Volume I: The Old Town 1880-1889.) Further reference are listed as follows: Anna Lindsay,"Elizabeth Bouza's Story," undated clipping, files of Marilu Cooper (hereafter cited as "Bouza's Story"). Bouza's "story" was repeated in Will Spindler's "Oriental Accent Given to Sheridan County During its Early History," Sheridan Country Star, July 6, 1967 (hereafter cited as "Oriental Accent"), which was later reprinted as "Chinaman Served in Civil War," Western Outlook, April 1971. It is likely that the capsule summary in Cohota's obituary (Valentine Republican, Nov 20, 1935, files of Marilu Cooper) stemmed from Bouza's "story" as well. Ruthanne also referred to an article from a newspaper clipping, July 19, 1930, files of Marilu Cooper,"Chinaman Who Was Civil War Soldier Patriotic American."; "Man Without a Country" in Nebraska State Journal, Sept 16, 1912 (hereafter cited as "Man"); The Nebraska State Journal reporter claimed Edward once "had a letter from his brother in Shanghai. He was compelled to send this letter to San Francisco to have it interpreted and then to send his own letter in reply to the old country." But Ruthanne commented that it seemed incredible that Edward could have maintained any contact with his Chinese family, especially since he told his children he did not even know his Chinese name.
Cohota was close to his "adopted" sister, Day's daughter, Lucy Elizabeth, to such an extent that he named his first daughter Lucy, and his second daughter Elizabeth. He gave his second son the middle name Day in honor of the captain. Moreover, he maintained a lifelong correspondence with Lucy Elizabeth who began her letters to him with the salutation "Dear Brother Ed" and signed them "Sister Lizzie." When Lucy Cohota and Ed, visited Gloucester, MA, in 1928, Lucy Elizabeth asked niece to call her "Aunt Lizzie" because Cohota "was brought up like a brother." Lucy Elizabeth also gave Lucy family heirlooms and to Cohota's grandchildren.
Young Cohota joined the 23rd Regiment Mass. Voluntary Infantry, Company I, in the Civil War. He fought the Battle of Drury's Bluff on May 16, 1864, under the the Command of Major Gen. Butler. The battle was fought in dense fog. "Even before the action became general, a column of the enemy, almost a stone's throw, was only detected by a momentary lift of the fog, showing their massed feet through the pool." As the battle continued, the fog became "doubly thick with smoke." Yet Cohota came out of the battle with "seven bullet holes thro' clothes. None touched his flesh." Then, at the Battle of Cold Harbor, Virginia, on Friday June 3, 1864, where Union troops suffered seven thousand casualties in half an hour,"a Confederate minie ball parted his hair permanently when it grazed his scalp." But he was not otherwise hurt. He also fought in Petersburg and marched to Appomatox.
In the Battle of Cold Harbor, Edward Cohota saved the life of William E. Low. As Low recounted the incident to his family, Low was "severely wounded by a bullet through his jaw [and] lay suffering and helpless among the dead and wounded" until Cohota "picked him up and hid him behind a rock" under the shade of some trees, then "rejoined the fighting line." After the battle, Cohota went back to where he'd hidden Low and carried Low to an ambulance station in the rear. Low "often spoke with deep gratitude and affection of Ned Cohota," calling Cohota "a fine soldier who did his duty nobly." So when Cohota visited Gloucester in 1928, friends arranged for the veterans to meet. Low was quite deaf and nearly blind. "The two old soldiers faced each other and relatives gathered closely, waiting expectantly, but then almost despairingly as Low showed no response to their shouted efforts to enlighten him. Suddenly his face flamed with recognition and his whole being was electrified as he leaped to his feet with a cry of 'Cohota!' [and] the two embraced with tears."
After the War, Cohota re-joined the army and stationed at Fort Randall, Dakota Territory. He met a young, attractive Norwegian woman, Anna Dorothea Hallstenson in 1883. She was a nursemaid to an officer's children. She seemed very much interested in him, and after a brief courtship, they were married in the Episcopal chapel at the fort. For a wedding gift, Cohota presented his bride with "a very pretty garnet necklace and earrings." Together they had six children: Lucy in 1886, Edward in 1888, Elizabeth in 1891, William in 1894, Daisy in 1896 and Miles (named after General Miles) in 1898. Besides serving meals at the Fort, he did guard duty, and stood guard over Chief Sitting Bull, whom he described as "friendly" and "kind."
As "a good citizen," he was "interested in every work of charity that he could possibly help"; and he "always exercised his franchise as a voter." And had he taken out his second papers of Naturalization (his enlistment papers being his first) before the 1882 Exclusion Act, he would indeed have been a U.S. citizen as he supposed. But believing citizenship came automatically with the Civil War service, he had not. So when he tried to take up a homestead in 1912, he was notified that "he was not a citizen of this country and could never become a citizen and therefore could never prove up his homestead."
Cohota protested that he had fought in the country's military service as a soldier for over thirty years and he deserved to be a citizen.
Ms. McCunn went on to describe how Cohota applied for his citizenship, army pension and Civil War pension. His applications were denied and he continued to fight for his right by asking help from judges, lawyers, politicians, Senator and the Secretary of the Interior. Because of his actions, he left a trail of written records of his deeds.
When he was 82 years old, he lived in the Battle Mountain Sanitarium for Veterans in Hot Springs, South Dakota. In 1928 Cohota purchased a brand new Oldsmobile, and with his son Ed. at the wheel, motored to Gloucester, Mass., with his daughter Lucy for a reunion with Lucy Elizabeth Day. Cohota considered Valentine, Nebraska, to be his home. When he died, Cohota's last rites were performed on November 20, 1935, by the Minnechadusa Lodge No. 192 in Valentine.
(Webmaster's notes: I went to Gloucester, Massachusetts and visited the Cape Anne Historical Association. The staff gladly provided me with 4 pictures from their archive. (1) Cohota's daughter, Mrs. Elizabeth Cohota Bouza posed with the oil painting portraits of her grandparents, Captain Sargent S. Day & Day's wife Lucy, in the house where the Days and her father who was adopted by them lived. Photo was taken by Barbara Erkkila. (2) Cohota's daughter, Mrs. Elizabeth Cohota Bouza, posed with the huge model ship, Cohota, at the Bostonian Society --- Old State House. Photo was taken by Barbara Erkkila. (3) Edward Day Cohota, his granddaughter, great granddaughter, and his daughter Elizabeth Cohota Bouza. (4) Edward Day Cohota posed with 4 of his 5 children: William Day Cohota, Mrs. Lucy Cohota Krauss, Mrs. elizabeth Cohota Bouza and Edward Woods Cohota. Circa 1930. The Historical Association would let me keep the pictures for my personal use, but decline to allow me to display them on the web site, due to their general policy of protecting the copyrights of their donors.)Edward Day Cohota site, from Cherry County, Nebraska, linked with permission, from the local historian, Marianne Beel, and the coordinator of the RootsWeb Genealogy web site, Cherry County, Nebraska, Doris Torguson.
The picture of Joseph Pierce in Union uniform. Courtesy of the owner of the picture, Michael J. McAfee, Senior Editor of the Military Images magazine and Curator of the Museum of United States Military Academy, and courtesy of Philip Katcher, Senior Book Review Editor of the Military Images magazine.
Joseph Pierce. Copy of the original picture of Joseph L. Pierce in Oval picture frame, published in History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, by Charles D. Page, (Boston, 1906.), on the Chapter named "The March from Falmouth to Gettysburg" page 131. Courtesy of Mr. D. Scott Hartwig, Supervisory Park Historian of Gettysburg National Military Park, National Park Service.)
Ms. McCunn gave credit to her source: (1) Edith B. Nettleton at the Guilford (Connecticut) Free Library for bringing her interest in Joseph L. Pierce. (2) And to Col. John Dynia, who heads the Civil War group that meets in the library, and to Dynia for generously sharing the fruits of his research with Ms. McCunn. (3) These military records are available from the National Archives, Washington, D.C. (4) Pierce's photograph is the property of his comrade, Private Edwin Stroud's grandson, Harald Harrison, of East Berlin, and was reproduced in Herbert J. Stoekel's "More About the Chinese Yankee" The Courant Magazine (Aug 4, 1963); and Stoekel wrote another article in the same magazine (June 30, 1963)"Oriental Yank from Berlin." (5) Charles P. Hamblen, Connecticut Yankees at Gettysburg, Kent State University Press, 1933.
A few versions of stories on how he came to the U.S. came to light. An unnamed CW comrade stated that Pierce was born in China on May 10, 1842, drifted to Japan and picked up by Captain Joseph A. Pierce of New Britain, Connecticut.
Pierce farmed in Berlin, Connecticut. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted in Company F, Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, a three year regiment drawing men from eighty six towns, in New Britain on July 26, 1862. Ms. McCunn went on to described their marching through Hartford, and boarded the steamers City of Hartfort and Dudley Buck to New York City and to Washington DC. Spectators lined up to see them off.
A few weeks later, they fought in Antietam. The causalty of his regiment included 20 killed, 48 missing, 88 wounded. Pierce was among the wounded, when he fell over a fence during the fierce fighting, injuring his back. He was sick in Hospital at Alexandria for over a month. In November and December, he was sufficiently recovered to work as a cook in a Virginia Convalescent Camp. But January, February and April of 1863 founr him back in the Hospital; in March, he was on detached service in Hospital Division.
After the war, Pierce did not returned to Berlin, Connecticut; nor to farming. Instead, he settled in Meriden, Connecticut, boarding at first with a member of the Peck family, where he worked as an engraver in its famous silverware industry. He was a confirmed dandy with his silk hat and everything that went with it. He married 21 years old Martha A. Morgan from Portland on November 12, 1876, when he was past thirty. They had four children: Sula on April 24,1879; Edna Bertha on January 22, 1881; Franklin on May 13, 1882 and Howard on January 2, 1884, but only the sons survived infancy.
Seventy-six years later, John Dynia, a retired U.S. Army colonel and Civil War enthusiast, became interested in Pierce when he read George Stewart's Pickett's Charge that Pierce was (believed to be) the only Chinese in the Army of the Potomac. (Not quite correct!) Figuring Pierce was then likely the only such person in the approximately 160,000 men taking part in the Battle of Gettysburg, Dynia submitted Pierce's photograph along with a recommendation for the veteran's inclusion in the Gettysburg Wall of Faces to the chief of interpretation (could the Chief Historian be Ed Bearss? Our dear friend?) at the Visitor's Center in Gettysburg National Military Park. Thank you very much, John Dynia, we are very grateful for a remarkable deed that you have done! We greatly appreciate your action taken! The picture on the wall are of men who were present at the Battle, none above the rank of captain. And in Aggust 1993, Pierce's image, a dashing figure in Western attire with a Chinese (hair) queue, was added to the wall.
Antonio Dardelle. Masonic Burial For Union Veteran; Antonio Dardelle, Civil War veteran who was buried with Masonic rites this afternoon. The photo appeared with his obituary. New Haven Register, January 19, 1933; courtesy of Andrew Cusati.
Antonio Dardelle was brought to Connecticut as a seven-year-old by Captain David White, a Guildford (name of a town) mariner. "Captain and Mrs. White found him in a Chinese port, an orphan, and Mr. White took such a liking to him that she prevailed upon her husband to permit her to bring him back to this country. He received his early education at the Clinton Academy and lived as a member of Captain White's household."
Ms. McCunn was again grateful to Colonel John Dynia for telling Andrew Cusati about her interest in Dardelle, and to Mr. Cusati, a reenactor in the 27th Connecticut Regiment, for generously sending her copies of Dardelle's military records and other data.
(The webmaster would also like to thank both Col. Dynia and Mr. Cusati for their contribution.)
It should be noted that Dardelle's military records are available from the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and that in some of the sources cited, Dardelle was misspelled "Dordelle" and "Dardell." When Dardelle, at eighteen, enlisted in Company A, 27th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry on August 23, 1862, he gave his place of residence as Clinton. Since the 27th was a nine-month regiment, he mustered in as a private at Camp Terry, in New Haven, on October 3, 1862, and mustered out on July 27, 1863. He later told people he had suffered a severe wound in his right shoulder during heavy fighting in the Marye's Heights, which was the Battle of Fredericksburg.
(Webmaster: We Civil War buffs all knew in this battle, Gen. Burnside's Union army suffered tremendous loss from Confederate Gen. Lee's fire.)
Dardelle's military records confirm that he was indeed "in hospital" in December 1862, but the notation is "sick" rather than wounded. On January 27, 1863, he was transferred from the General Hospital at Portsmouth Grove, Rhode Island, to the one in New Haven, and he remained "sick in hospital at New Haven" from January through June. When speaking of his wound, however, he claimed that "after a brief period of treatment, he returned to his company and served until the end of the war."
As a veteran, Dardelle joined the New Haven Grays. He also used his service to secure U.S. citizenship, the Court of Common Pleas in New Haven accepting his enlistment as the equivalent to "the taking out of first papers." "With his American citizenship, [Dardelle] embraced the Christian faith and became a member of the First Methodist Church." Moreover, he entered the Masonic Order in Guildford in 1865, changing his affiliation to the Wooster Lodge in 1882, and he was "an active worker with the Young Men's Republican Club, as well as the organization of the party in the ward where he made his home.
For several years after Dardelle mustered out, "home" continued to be Clinton. But on April 9, 1868, he married Mary C. Payne from Madison, and the following year, they moved to New Haven. All three of his daughters were born there: Minnie on November 7, 1873; Carrie on July 7, 1875; Alice on November 18, 1880, and he supported his family as a tinner (tinsmith) and plumber.
Dardelle worked well into old age, perhaps in part because for many years he could not secure the veteran's pension due him. Whether he had served was never in doubt. His exact age, however, was. When he first applied for a pension on February 20, 1907, under the Act of February 6, 1907, Dardelle claimed he was sixty-two and therefore entitled to twelve dollars a month. But he left the year of birth blank. Pressed by the Bureau of Pensions to give a date, he responded with an affidavit from a Charles Spreyer, who had served with him, explaining, "I left my Native country when but a chile (child). Brought up by a sea Capt. Who is now dead for this many years and his wife is in dotage therefor (therefore) I make this [affidavit] under oath of a man who has known me this fifty years." But the Bureau of Pensions must have denied Dardelle because eight years later he was still submitting these same explanations regarding his lack of acceptable birth records.
Under the various pension acts, the amount a veteran received increased in direct proportion to the veteran's age, and Dardelle, when finally granted a pension, was apparently given the money due a man younger than his seventy-two years. For on March 6, 1916, he submitted a request for an increase in pension, this time giving a specific year of birth: 1844. Whether this application was successful or he gave up on trying to convince the government, cannot be determined from existing records, but he did not stop working until he was eighty-one.
In addition to his work and the activities already noted, Dardelle was an omnivorous reader, with a special interest in books on philosophy and travel. Because of his daily walks through New Haven, he was well known in the town. He even "enjoyed the friendships of Governors Ingersoll and Woodruff." After he was widowed in 1930, his one unmarried daughter, Alice, kept house for him until his death from pneumonia on January 18, 1933. At his funeral, members of his Masonic Lodge acted as pallbearers, and the New Haven Grays sent a delegation, including a bugler and honor guard. His hard backpack is on display in the New Haven Gray's Museum Room at the 102nd Regiment Armory, New Havens, Connecticut.
Note: The quotation came from an article called, Lone Chinese Civil War Vet. Dies In City, from the Newspaper, New Haven Register, January 19, 1933.
Posted by Webmaster Gordon Kwok (
May 1, 2000
Revised February 24, 2001
Revised and uploaded on January 26, 2009.