[Home] [Book] [Expand] [Collapse] [Help]

Clear Search Expand Search


    CHAPTER XIII.
  --  RETURN TO AMERICA.   Table of Contents     CHAPTER XV.
  --  A STEP TOWARDS THE SERVICE.

Rollin, Frank [Frances] A.
Life and Public Services of Martin R. Delany

- CHAPTER XIV. -- CORPS D'AFRIQUE.

CHAPTER XIV.
CORPS D'AFRIQUE.


As early as October, 1861, Dr. Delany, when en route to Chicago, stopped at Adrian, Michigan, for the purpose of seeing President Mahan, of the Michigan College. The subject of the war, which was then being earnestly waged, instantly became the theme of conversation, and the rôle of the colored American as an actor on its board was the principal feature therein. How and what to do to obtain admission to the service, was the question to which Dr. Delany demanded a solution. He stated that it had become inseparable with his daily existence, almost absorbing everything else, and nothing would content him but entering the service; he cared not how, provided his admission recognized the rights of his race to do so.

To this President Mahan assented, and expressed himself as willing to sacrifice his high social position and literary worth for the cause of his country and humanity. He further expressed himself as being willing and ready to enter the service on conditions that should be specified, he having received a military education in his youth.

He proposed to apply to President Lincoln for a major general's commission, with authority to raise a division

raster
142
of blacks. Dr. Delany at once proposed that the application be made specially for a corps d'Afrique for signal service from the white division of the army. This was prior to the application of Dr. Gloucester to Mr. Lincoln for such an organization for Major General Fremont, or the order to General N.P.Banks.

His main reason in urging the corps d'Afrique was, he claimed, with his usual pride of race, that the origin and dress of the Zouaves d'Afrique were strictly African .

To President Mahan, on that occasion, he gave the following history of their formation;--

"That it was during the Algerine war waged by the Duc d'Orleans, eldest son of Louis Philippe, against Abdel-Kader, the Arab, the Zouave obtained that fame which recommended it to civilized nations.

"The French had their three grand armies of ten thousand; the struggle had been long, desperate, and costly to the French, both in men and materials of war, and the campaign began to wane, till


'A Moorish king went up and down,
Through Granada's royal town,'

and the services of the African warriors were tendered to the Duc d'Orleans by an African prince.

"When, in a terrible charge, the duke, receiving a shot through the thigh, was unhorsed, and fell bleeding to the ground, the desperate Arabs, amid the wild shouts of their leaders, charged on their steeds with open mouths and distended nostrils, their javelins drawn for the fatal thrust, those faithful black Zouaves, eighteen hundred, mounted upon jet stallions, rushed

raster
143
to the conflict, in turn charging, and turned the front of their antagonists with double-edged sabres, cut through the ranks of the shrieking enemy, covered the duke with their shields, and bore him away in triumph from the field.

"It was for services such as these in a long and bloody struggle, that could not have been brought to a close without such aid, that the African Zouaves, who served in the Algerine war, were taken as veteran troops with the French to Europe, and their dress and tactics introduced as a part of the military service of the French.

"It was observed years ago by persons visiting Hayti, without their comprehending it closely, perhaps, that the soldiers of that island had peculiar tactics,--'throwing themselves upon the earth,' and, as one writer observed, turning upon their backs, then upon their sides, so swiftly that it was hard to determine what they were, all the time keeping up a continual 'load and fire.' This was, doubtless, nothing but the original Zouave tactics introduced long years ago by native Africans among these people."

Before leaving, President Mahan proposed to make the application, as previously agreed upon between them, and, if successful, to give Dr. Delany an appointment compatible with his desires. The latter proposed to avoid encroaching on army regulations as then being the policy; that he should receive the position of private medical adviser and confidential bearer of despatches, which would not interfere with any official position of army officers, and at the same time giving him the opportunity of being near the general's person,

raster
144
to obtain the military experience he desired, which he knew would render him of service in the event of the government accepting the aid of the colored troops, by admitting those fitted to proper positions.

With this understanding he left President Mahan, confident, if it was possible for his desires to be accomplished, that all endeavors would be used. Instead of hearing of the success of his plans, he soon saw them fade before him, like a dream before awakened realities, by seeing the order published giving authority to Major General N.P. Banks to raise a corps d'Afrique immediately for the service.

But this did not prevent him from looking to a brighter prospect for his race.

"As this placed us fairly in the war," he said, "thanking God, I became satisfied, and took courage."

Thus, while it proved an individual failure for his plans, as it was a gain to his race, it was as to himself, and his unselfish nature received fresh stimulant to labor to promote further recognition for them.

raster
145

    CHAPTER XIII.
  --  RETURN TO AMERICA.   Table of Contents     CHAPTER XV.
  --  A STEP TOWARDS THE SERVICE.