Saturday, September 04, 2004


THIRTY-EIGHT (38) letters authored by a Zouave—a 44-year old, French Canadian by the name of Francis Aubin.

The letters were written to his daughter, Eliza Aubin. Each letter is authored by Francis Aubin as he struggles to communicate with his family from the front lines. There are a few letters with terrific Patriotic letterheads. One letter is written on official letterhead from "The Headquarters of the 146th Regt. N. York Vols., Col. Garrard," depicting an engraving of the Capitol Building, with the "Dome’s" construction completed.

One of the letters was written on the reverse side of an 1861 Civil War Military broadsidewhich was no doubt given to Francis Aubin just before he enlisted. The broadside’s title reads, "AN ACT, To Provide for the Allotment Certificates Among the Volunteer Forces." Please click on the enlargement below for a more thorough review of the ACT.

Some of the postal marks include cancellations from Reading, PA; Washington; Easton, PA; New York, Lancaster, PA; Fredericksburg, MD; and Rome, NY.


French-Canadians were one of the most fascinating, colorful, and important groups present in the Union forces. The archive offered here is indeed a special one, and it is doubtful that you will run into another like it in a lifetime, especially an archive which includes a Gettysburg/Little Round Top dated letter.

Though thousands of Franco-Americans appear to have served in the conflict, the exact number is largely unclear. There are no truly reliable statistics concerning foreign enlistments in the Union forces. Consequently, only rough estimates can be made. Most scholars tend to claim that anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 Franco-Americans, many of whom would have been born in the United States or had resided there for several years, served in the Union forces.

The uniform of the Garrard’s Tigers is pictured exactly on page 130 of the book, "Echoes of Glory". It consisted of the following:
Headgear - Scarlet fez with yellow tassel, turban worn for dress
Jacket - Sky blue Zouave jacket with yellow trim and tombeaux
Trousers - Sky blue Chasseur trousers
Sash - Scarlet sash with yellow edging
Leggings - Canvas leggings with russet leather jambiéres

A historian, who has examined all enlistment estimates reported that most of the forty thousand or more ‘Canadians’ who enlisted probably were third and even forth generation French-Canadian Americans. Most nineteenth-century estimates of Franco-American participation in the Civil War tend to be high. In May of 1864, the Catholic Bishop of Montreal, Msgr. Ignace Bourget (1799-1885), warned the priests of his diocese that at least 25,000 French Canadians were taking part in the fighting on the Union side and that unless something was done to stop them from enlisting, more would be headed for the boucherie (slaughterhouse).

It is probably safe to state that anywhere from ten to twenty thousand French Canadians and Franco-Americans served in the Union forces during the Civil War. Twenty thousand represents an ambitious but not impossible maximum. Nonetheless, the true figure would likely be closer to the ten than the twenty thousand enlistments mark. An overwhelming proportion of these men enlisted in the army. Only a very small number of French Canadians seem to have served in the Union navy.

We will never know exactly how many Franco-Americans fought and died in the Civil War. During the first half of the war, no records were kept of the birthplace or parentage of enlisted men. When such information was at last requested, recruiting agents frequently filled in the forms with guesses or falsified information to fill state or town quotas. Moreover, Yankee recruiting officers often saw very little difference between an Acadian, a French Canadian, a Frenchman or a French-speaking Belgian or Swiss recruit. All francophones might thus end up being lumped into a large "French" group.


The 146th was organized at Rome, N.Y., and mustered in on October 10, 1862. The Regiment left the state for Washington, D.C., on October 11, 1862. It was attached to Casey's Division, Defenses of Washington, until November, 1862. From there on until March 1864, it was attached to the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, 5th Army Corps, Army of the Potomac. The 146th New York Zouaves was the only Zouave Unit in the 5th Army Corps.

Originally called the "Fifth Oneida" Regiment and the "Halleck Infantry", the 146th NY went off to war in 1862 under Colonel Kenner Garrard, a veteran West Pointer. Garrard expected his volunteers to live up to the standards of the "Old Army", and the regiment was assigned to General Sykes' Division of the Army of the Potomac, a division composed mainly of U.S. Regulars.

Francis Aubin was the ripe old age of 44 years when he enlisted as a private on August 21, 1862. An immigrant of Canada, he mustered into Company "D", 146th New York Infantry on October 10, 1862. Private Aubin was one of the founding recruits of the unit, enlisting in September 1862, one month before his unit was officially mustered into service. At the beginning, Aubin and his Regiment were at Duty in the Defenses of Washington, D.C., until November 1862.
Almost immediately after they were mustered in, the 146th NY, were thrust into battle action, suffering brutal and significant losses at Fredricksburg, Chancellorsville, and the Little Round Top at Gettysburg, where for its performance on the battlefield, its Commander, Colonel Garrard, was promoted to Brigadier General. The last action that Private Aubin saw with the 146th New York Zouaves was in the Regiment’s pursuit of Lee from July 5 through 24, 1863. On September 3, 1863, Aubin was transferred to the Veterans Corps, formerly known as the Invalid Corps.

Francis Aubin’s native language was French. How difficult it must have been for Aubin to communicate with his fellow soldiers and commanding officers. . His letters reflect his lack of command of the English language. He struggles to communicate his thoughts in phonetic English. Many of the letters from him are written in a different hand as he managed to convince a volunteer to write his letters for him.


Ssome of the letters are difficult to read as they are in broken English. But once you have read a few, it does become easier as you decipher the dialect. A few contain a mixture of French and broken English, which only serves as a reminder about how difficult it must have been for this 44-year old man. How brave a man must have been to enlist in the Civil War. But to volunteer as Francis Aubin did--the sheer determination and courage of a man who willingly enlists into a foreign jurisdiction for a Cause he probably did not understand andwithout the basic benefit of speaking the same language as his comrades, must indeed have been a grueling, discouraging, and frustrating experience.

The quotes from the letters follow

"September 11, 1862—Camp Huntington (Rome)

Dear Eliza--
I write to inform you that I have volunteered in the service, and when you write to me, direct as above so that I may know where to direct letter with money in it for you. I am well and hope you are the same. I shall have not far short of $200. I shall want you to keep the check for me until I come back from the war…."

The following penciled letter is written in Aubin’s hand on the Reverse of the 1861 Broadside which is pictured above--the "Act to Provide for Allotment Certificates". I have transcribed portions of this letter to the best of my ability. For reading ease, I corrected grammar and spelling. With a little time and patience, this letter could be completely transcribed.

"October 13, 1862—Camp Washington

Today is Monday—My Dear Daughter--

It is with these few lines to make you know I am well for the time…. Dear daughter am here with Regiment and I do not like the place at all. I don’t have a gun ready. The Rebel come last night…. 4000 Rebels be only miles from here…. Eliza…now Frank he got killed, last month on the 17th…."

"October 17, 1862—Headquarters of 146th New York

Company D, Capt. GrindleyDear Eliza--

…I am well and do not feel lonesome at all, hoping these few lines will find you well. I wish to send you my money and want you to take good care of it. I want you to take it and put it in a bank until I come home. I will send it by express soon as I can. I signed a Rule to have you sent $8.00 per month. You take the check that is sent you, and sign your name on the back and go to any bank and get cashed…."

"January 10, 1863—Reading, Pa.

Dear Daughter…In this letter, Aubin writes about money and worthless paper money and someone with a million dollars, and I’m sure much more.

"Camp Near Fredericksburg on Potomac Creek in Virginia

March 24, 1863

Dear Daughter & Son-in-law
…I was pleased that you were ever ready to comfort and encourage me in my troubles, and I know that the confidence which I have placed in you is just…where I selected you among my other children, not that I think any less of them, but because you were the oldest and more experienced…you would not see your father in trouble…I hope that…by the faith of the great redeemer, my daughter and myself will forget our past troubles and work future happiness as the only as the only safeguard against all miseries and troubles…. While resting a couple of the boys from the 97th N.Y. came up to visit. Some of their friends in our Regiment. They report that John is well and all the boys there in general.I always like to hear form absent friends and relatives and don’t think it any trouble to inform them of my situation…."

"Camp Near Fredericksburg on Potomac Creek in Virginia
April 16, 1863
Dear Daughter
…We had orders to march last Tuesday, but they were countermanded as we are here yet, not knowing when, nor where, we shall go. We had 8 days rations ready th enight before [a sure sign that a long Campaign was in the works] and have them yet, waiting for further orders…. They won’t give passes, only for one day…we have just received today four months pay…. See that my money is all safe and let no one have any without my orders as long as I am alive and well… I wish this war would be ended some way, I want to see you all very much."


"July 5, 1863—Pa.
Dear Daughter--
I sit down to give you a few lines, for I want you to know that I am here and all well at the present. I hope the few lines will find you the same. I be here on a mountain. We got battle last Thursday and Friday. Sgt. Taylor, for day and today, he get more battle on the 6th. I got shot.

[edited out content on battle and Regiment. The reverse of the letter is dated July 10, 1863 and continues on with more content here about the battle.]


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