On 24 October 1864 a man surrendered himself to the commanding Union officer at the post of Louisa, Kentucky. On 9 November 1864 the man was sent to Lieutenant Richard Vance, Provost Marshall General of the Military District of Kentucky. After hearing his story and comparing it with other “witnesses”, Lieutenant Vance, a partially, if at all, literate, but faithful Union man from Logan County, in the newly minted state of West Virginia, determined that the man's story was, “...contradictory and palpably false.” Vance's judgment may have been sound, but did not appear to wholly believe the man's almost incredible story.


The man's name was interpreted as Lero (or Leru) Hamada (or Hamader), an Algirine (perhaps a term meant to describe him as an Algerian). He claimed to have been in the Confederacy for a short time before voluntarily crossing the lines and surrendering himself to the commanding officer at Louisa, Kentucky, to avail himself of the opportunity to take the 'oath' and become a citizen of the United States. Lieutenant Vance was wary of deserters, and so were Vance's witnesses, who regarded Hamada as a Federal Deserter who they surmised may have recently passed through Pound Gap.

 

What made Hamada's story possible, are a few things that Lieutenant Vance may not have known too much about. There was a small contingent of Algerian men in North America in 1864, brought as part of the French Army, which had invaded parts of Mexico in 1863. Was Hamada a part of this contingent of Algerians? Whether he was a deserter from the North African troops attached to the French Army in Mexico is conjecture, but is is the most likely scenario. Vance insinuated that Hamada may have been a Federal deserter, indicating the belief that he had already performed some level of service in the Union Army. Despite this conjecture about his origin and behavior, a few things stand out that mark this man as a unique member of the Union forces during the Civil War.


The only document pertaining to this man, where all of this data was compiled, is a partially filled-out Volunteer Descriptive List, located at the US National Archives on 14 July 2017. The descriptive list was perhaps one of the first documents produced in a Civil War soldiers' career. It was a document of identity, and recorded the soldier's description, origin, nativity, and where and when he was enlisted or inducted, mustered and paid. Lero Hamada was described as having been born in Algiers, Africa, and was about 35 years of age. His personal description tells very little by noting that he had dark eyes, dark hair, a dark complexion and stood 5 feet 10 inches tall; and was by occupation a blacksmith. That could have described almost any man from on any continent of the Earth. If Hamada was Algerian, his description doesn't confirm it, but it also does nothing to discount the possibility.

 

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Often produced in triplicate format, a copy of the descriptive list was supposed to be carried by the soldier at all times, so that if he was away from his unit on detail or assignment, he could still be properly recorded and carried on the rolls of other organizations for the sake of pay and subsistence (food and clothing, etc). This copy of Hamada's descriptive list was located in a box of “undescribed” and unsorted material, files and papers accidentally separated from the proper place in the records.


No further evidence of Hamada's career as a soldier, or his existence at all, has been discovered. He remains, yet, a member of a unique class of characters in the Civil War's unfolding story. The only other soldier like Hamada, found so far, was a man named Ali ben Moussa, a crafty Algerian fellow who served in both the Union and Confederate Armies before also disappearing from history. Moussa was profiled on the vulnus sclopeticum blog in 2011 – http://soldiersource.blogspot.com/2011/08/ali-ben-moussa-real-zouave.html.

 

Hamada's descriptive list was located in NARA RG94, entry ud-314, Record & Pension Office; Administrative Records; Damaged & Unidentified Records & Volumes, box 4. NAID 6274354.