Biographical Profile of Pvt. Lewis Chapman, 108th U.S. Colored Infantry

Pvt. Lewis Chapman, Company F, 108th U.S. Colored Infantry
Pvt. Lewis Chapman, Company F, 108th U.S. Colored Infantry*
Lewis Chapman Muster Roll
Lewis Chapman Muster Roll

If any company officer had had the ability to pick and choose the men in his command, Pvt. Lewis Chapman would likely have been on his short list of candidates. During Chapman’s twenty-one months as an infantryman, he did not have a single blemish on his record. The first lieutenant of his company praised him as a “sterling soldier.”374

Born enslaved in south central Kentucky, Lewis Chapman tended his enslaver’s fields on a farm near Munfordville, strategically located along a railroad and a vital federal supply line that ran into middle Tennessee. He probably glimpsed his first Union soldiers in late 1861, when military authorities established the forty thousand–man Camp Wood north of town.375

He might also have been in the vicinity during the Battle of Munfordville on September 14–17, 1862, when victorious Confederates briefly occupied the area. By the summer of 1864, Chapman had left the farm and slavery and made his way about eighty miles north to Louisville, where he enlisted in the 108th U.S. Colored Infantry.376

He joined Company F, where he gained a reputation for excellence. His first lieutenant remarked that he was “always up to time,”377 a reference to his ability to execute complicated infantry movements and formations. The same officer described Chapman as “very quiet.”378 A fellow private added, “He was a good honest straight forward man.” These character traits served him well as he participated in various duties in Kentucky and Mississippi and on guard duty at the prisoner of war camp at Rock Island, Illinois.

Chapman mustered out of the army with his comrades in the spring of 1866 and returned to Munfordville. In the autumn of that year, he wed a widow, Harriett Barracks. The minister who presided over the ceremony noted, “No witnesses are on record, as the marriage was intended to be private as the parties wished it to be.”379 In 1881, they moved to Louisville. According to a friend, the couple was “respected by all who knew them.”380 Chapman worked as a laborer and supported his wife. He lived until age fifty-six, dying of pneumonia in 1895.

Excerpted from African American Faces of the Civil War by Ronald S. Coddington.
Copyright 2012 by Johns Hopkins University Press. Reprinted by permission of the author and Johns Hopkins University Press.

See Footnotes
374 Theodore Francis Wright, who served as first lieutenant of Company F, wrote the quoted words on the back of his carte de visite of Brown.
375 McBride, The Union Occupation of Munfordville, Kentucky, 1861–1865, p. 3.
376 Lewis Chapman military service record, NARS.
377 Also on the back of Chapman’s carte de visite.
378 Ibid.
379 Harriett Chapman pension record, NARS.
380 Ibid.

*Photo courtesy of the Randolph Linsly Simpson African-American Collection, James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection in the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

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