Captaining the Corps d’Afrique

The Civil War Diaries and Letters of John Newton Chamberlin


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About the Book

“I have stood by their side in the grim conflict,” wrote Union Captain John Chamberlin of the Corps d’Afrique. “Woe to the nation that long withholds their rights from them.”
Chamberlin spent nearly five years in the South during and after the Civil War. A well read, observant and articulate writer, he recorded his unique perspective as a commander of black soldiers and engineers. More than everyday accounts of camp life and battles, Chamberlin’s letters and diaries —here presented in historical context—give an insider’s view of the Union army’s relationship with black troops and of the political and social implications of wartime events. Late in the war, his correspondence focused on a schoolmate, Anna Bullock, and their burgeoning relationship.

About the Author(s)

Retired college professor John Bisbee lives in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Bibliographic Details

John Newton Chamberlin
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 212
Bibliographic Info: 17 photos & illustrations, 3 maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2016
pISBN: 978-1-4766-6449-1
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2500-3
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vi

Preface 1

Introduction 5

1. Entering the Fray 7

2. The Union Takes Pensacola 15

3. New Orleans 23

4. Control of the Mississippi River 33

5. 3rd Engineers, Corps d’Afrique 46

6. Loneliness of War 56

7. The Red River Campaign 63

8. Coping with the Misery of War 70

9. Changes for the Black Soldiers 77

10. The Presidential Election and the War 87

11. Return to Florida 93

12. Camp Life 101

13. The Defeat of the Rebels 107

14. Victory at What Price? 114

15. ­Post-War Nation 125

16. Visit at Home 134

17. Final Military Days 139

18. Planning a Future Together 147

Epilogue 157


A. The Chamberlin and Bullock Documents: A Brief History 161

B. Order for Service in the Corps d’Afrique 162

C. Engineering Instructions, Duane’s Manual 163

D. Fort Gaines Orders 165

E. Receipt for Clothing Issued in October 1864 166

F. Stores Lost in Action, December 18, 1864 167

G. Field Work Order, April 24, 1865 169

H. Chronology of John’s and Anna’s Letters 170

I. Jennie Rogers Orders 172

J. Leave of Absence, October 18, 1865 173

K. Soldiers in Black Companies Commanded by Capt. Chamberlin 173

Chapter Notes 176

Bibliography 192

Index 199

Book Reviews & Awards

“Chamberlin’s detailed diary and letters comprise perhaps a unique firsthand record of the service of black engineers in the western and Trans-Mississippi theaters, with the eloquence of the writer’s political and social commentary an added benefit to the modern reader. Well read Civil War students are always looking for something fresh and new, and this volume certainly possesses those sought after qualities”—Civil War Books and Authors; “This history is unique in that it is an account of life amongst African American soldiers. A very detailed account of their activities…a well presented and excellent portrayal of a little discussed aspect of Civil War history. The reader will gain much insight into a common man serving in an obscure unit, in a remote region, whose service is largely unheralded, despite the fact that their performance was a vital part of Union efforts. Highly recommend[ed]”—Civil War News.