Zara Lucerne Cotton - updated 2/28/09

Zara Lucerne Cotton was born May 9, 1834, in either Cortland, Cortland County or Fayetteville, Onondaga County, New York, the son of Theodore (1802-1879) and May (Lewis, b. 1805) or Susannah.

New York natives Theodore and May were married in 1823 in Cortland, New York.

While the specifics remain unclear, apparently Zara, barely fourteen years old, enlisted in the “District of Columbia and Maryland Volunteers” on June 5 or 6, 1848, but was soon discharged on June 27 at Fort McHenry, Maryland -- possibly as a consequence of his youth.

In any case, his father eventually moved the family from New York State to Michigan, eventually settling in Ionia County. In fact Gilbert Cotton, Zara’s older brother, had been living in Michigan since at least 1850. Zara may have served as Third Sergeant of the Boston (Ionia County) Light Guards, a West Ionia County militia company that would serve as the nucleus for Company D, Third Michigan Infantry in 1861. His older brother Gilbert had himself been involved with the Boston Light Guard, although he resigned his rank of Lieutenant from the Guards at about the time war broke out.

In late 1859 or early 1860 Zara married Ohio native Esther Ann Rodgers (b. 1842).

They may have lived briefly in Saranac, Ionia County, with Esther’s family (Eli and Sally Rodgers). By 1860 Zara was working as a cabinet-maker and living with his new wife together with his father Theodore, who was working as a cabinet-maker, in Boston, Ionia County; next door lived Zara’s older brother Gilbert and his family; Gilbert too worked as a cabinet-maker.

Zara was 27 years old and living in Boston, Ionia County when he enlisted as Sergeant in Company D on May 13, 1861. (Company D was composed in large part of men who came from western Ionia County and Eaton County.) Shortly after the Boston Light Guards arrived in Grand Rapids in late May of 1861 to be reorganized into the new Third Michigan then forming at Cantonment Anderson south of the city, Cotton wrote to the Grand Rapids Enquirer. “The Boston Light Guard are all right,” he wrote,

we were mustered into the service of the United States on May 23rd. We had a full company, as a great many of the Portland [Ionia County] Company joined us, which now is called D. They brought their flag with them, being disbanded they [thought] that the flag should never be returned to the ladies of Portland dishonored by deserters. We had only one man who refused to take the oath, and let it be recorded upon the annals of his country that his courage comes out of the ends of his fingers; let the fair sex avoid him like they would an adder. Our Regiment is almost full; we have also a fine Brass Band. Those who saw the First Regiment say that we come up to their standard, and some say we are decidedly ahead. Capt. [Moses] Houghton is just the man to lead us. Our motto is “Go ahead.”

Less than months after the Third Michigan arrived in Virginia, on September 8, 1861, Frank Siverd of Company G wrote that Fort Richardson, near Alexandria, Virginia was now the responsibility of Company D of the Third Michigan infantry. “We have already in position,” he wrote, “two 20-pounder rifled cannon . . . and will soon have ten or twelve more mounted, and then we will be ready and anxious for a visit from our friends (!) on the other hill. Co. D, has been detailed to take charge of the guns -- their position is no little envied by the remainder of the detachment -- Captain [Moses] Houghton . . . is second in command of the post, Lieutenant [Byron] Hess . . . acting Adjutant, Sergeant [Zara] Cotton . . . acting Sergeant-Major. Co. D is from Boston, Ionia County, and from the above record, might be considered a model company.”

During the winter of 1861-1862 Zara returned to Michigan on recruiting duty for the regiment, and by early March was recruiting in Saranac along with Lieutenant Abraham Whitney, also of the Third Michigan.

With the end of winter and recruiting duty as well as the onset of the spring campaign, Zara eventually returned to the Regiment in Virginia. He soon took sick, however, and by June of 1862, he was reported in the hospital at Bottom’s Bridge, Virginia, suffering from rheumatism and debility, and he was absent sick in the hospital in August of 1862. He claimed some years later that during a forced march at the battle of Fair Oaks, Virginia, on May 31, 1862, he “became over-heated which caused affection [sic] of the eyes” and that he “was nearly blind for several days and also quite deaf.”

In any case, he was a provost guard from October until he was discharged on November 11, 1862, in order to be transferred to Company B (or D), Sixth United States cavalry on December 6, 1862, at Falmouth, Virginia. He was reported missing in action in August of 1863 and in fact had been captured on July 3 at Fairfield, Pennsylvania while his company had been engaged with the enemy. He was confined at Fairfield then sent to Richmond, Virginia on July 21.

Zara was paroled at City Point, Virginia on July 23, and reported to Camp Parole, Maryland, on July 24, although he was at one point on a list of deserters from the Regiment. (He was probably reported as a deserter while actually a prisoner-of-war, which was not an uncommon administrative failure during the war.) In any case, he had returned to the Regiment by the end of October. He remained present for duty until he was mustered out of service at the expiration of his term of service on May 13, 1864. The existing record is unclear but at some point he may have been court-martialled, possibly as a result of the alleged desertion.

Zara returned to Michigan but eventually settled in Arkansas where he probably lived out the remainder of his life, working as a cabinet-maker for many years. (His parents were living in Saranac, Ionia County in 1870.)

By 1880 Zara was working as a lawyer and living his wife Susan in Jackson, Little River County, Arkansas. By 1889 Zara was living in Mount Ida, Montgomery County, Arkansas, and he was still living in Montgomery County in 1900.

Zara was married perhaps as many as four times: First to Esther Ann Rodgers, as noted above (it is possible that she died). Second to Susan Edna Salyers (b. 1847), on July 1, 1871 or 1873, and they had at least three children: Frederick, Theodore C. (b. 1877) and M. (b. 1868) who was adopted. They divorced in Polk County, Arkansas in 1884 or perhaps September of 1888. His third wife was a widow by the name Eliza Ann Powell Monroe (1857-1927), whom he married on September 16, 1888, in South Fork, Montgomery County, Arkansas, and they had at least four children: Thomas Luzern (b. 1889), Mary Luella (b. 1891), Gilbert (b. 1893) and William Elmer “Chief” (b. 1896). This marriage also ended in divorce in Garland County, Arkansas in 1903. Zara married his fourth wife, Mary Jane Norman (1859-1933), who was from Montgomery County, on December 13, 1903.

In 1889 he applied for and received a pension (no. 814020).

Zara died on September 4, 1905, in Arkansas and was presumably buried there.

In 1906 an application for pension was filed on behalf of a minor child (no. 841950), but the certificate was never granted (possibly as a consequence of her remarriage).

His widow Mary Jane apparently remarried in 1907, but in 1916 she applied for and received a pension (no. 836449; it is appears that her second husband died). She was living in Crystal Springs or Meyers, Arkansas, when she died in Meyers on April 10, 1933, and was buried in Peak cemetery.