Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Dr. William H. Goetzmann, Jack S. Blanton, Sr. Chair in History and American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, gives an introduction to Samuel Chamberlain and his magnificent memoir, "My Confession."
Audio TipsThis is the story, taken from his own handwritten account, of Samuel Emery Chamberlain, who was born in New Hampshire on November 28, 1829, and moved to Boston when he was seven. Little did anyone know that he would become a soldier, a writer, an artist, an irresistible lover, a scalp hunter, and an all-around rascal, who reformed, became a Boston fireman, or bacon smoker as they were called, a warden of a Connecticut prison, and collected 800 bibles.
I have been interested in Sam Chamberlain since about 1955, when his manuscript was offered for sale to the Western Americana Collection at Yale. Sam's story of his exploits in the 1846 war with Mexico, where he first served with General John E. Wool's army, is by far the most candid and colorful account of any part of the Mexican War that exists today. He spent the latter half of the 19th century writing and personally illustrating his activities in Texas, Arizona, and Old Mexico in four copies, including one for each of his three daughters - Dolorios, Franceita, and Carmeleita. Only one nearly complete copy remains. It is at West Point, of course, a place Sam never even saw during his adventurous career.
Besides his hard service in the war with Mexico, Sam also served with distinction in the Civil War, where he was wounded five times and rose to the rank of Brigadier General of the elite 1st Massachusetts Cavalry. The Brahmin in Boston, Charles Francis Adams, declared him, "the best commander the regiment ever had."
Some people think that Sam Chamberlain wrote his odyssey in hopes that besides being the model for the Union Officer's Statue in Harvard Square, he would someday be recognized for his exploits as well. But this was never to be, until now, in the late 1990's, when we bring many of his exploits to life and inquire into what can only be termed his "Magical Mystery Manuscript".
The manuscript for Chamberlain's magnificent memoir, "My Confession," is in the West Point Museum at the United States Military Academy.