Chamberlain, Samuel Emery (1829–1908)

By: William Goetzmann

Type: Biography

Published: August 1, 1995

Updated: June 27, 2018

Samuel Emery Chamberlain, soldier, adventurer, and artist, was born in Centre Harbour, New Hampshire, on November 27, 1829, and moved with his family to Boston at an early age. In 1844 he ran away to Illinois. On June 12, 1846, a month after the outbreak of the Mexican War, he joined the Alton Guards of the Second Illinois Volunteer Regiment, bound for Texas. When he reached San Antonio, he transferred to the First United States Dragoons of the regular army. After a number of misadventures in San Antonio, Chamberlain left that city with Gen. John E. Wool's corps bound for Mexico. He was fascinated with the Texas Rangers so much so that he claimed to have been with them in the battle of Monterrey, which had already taken place before he left San Antonio. Chamberlain did, however, have many rollicking adventures with the Rangers in Mexico-fighting guerillas, drinking in cantinas, and having countless love affairs with Mexican women. He also participated in and painted numerous pictures of the battle of Buena Vista. On March 22, 1849, he was listed as a deserter from the First Dragoons. He was back in Boston by 1854 and married Mary Keith on July 4, 1855; they had three children. Chamberlain touched Texas in several other ways. He rode with the notorious Texas scalp-hunter John Joel Glanton all over the northern Mexican frontier. In the Civil War he rose to brevet brigadier general and took the Fifth Massachusetts Colored Volunteer Cavalry to Clarksville, near the mouth of the Rio Grande, after the war had ended. An extraordinary collection of 147 Mexican War watercolors by Chamberlain is owned by the San Jacinto Battlefield Museum. The pictures form a version of Chamberlain's unpublished masterpiece recounting his adventures in Texas, Mexico, Arizona, and California during and after the Mexican War. A brilliantly illuminated manuscript, part fact and part fiction, on which he worked all through the latter half of his life, My Confession: the Recollections of a Rogue (published in 1956), is perhaps the most vivid, revealing, earthy account of the life of an enlisted soldier in the war with Mexico. Chamberlain died on November 10, 1908, and was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

William H. Goetzmann, Sam Chamberlain's Mexican War: The San Jacinto Museum of History Paintings (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1993).

  • Visual Arts
  • Painting

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

William Goetzmann, “Chamberlain, Samuel Emery,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 21, 2022,

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August 1, 1995
June 27, 2018