in the American Civil War
Wounded African American soldiers during Richmond Petersburg Campaign of American Civil War
What is not in doubt about Octave Fariola's shadowy life is his prominent involvement in the American Civil War a few years before the Fenian uprising. The website of the National Parks of the United States provides summaries of his record in the Union Army where his promotion was swift and impressive.
Following a general order in May 1863 to organize regiments of African American troops for the Union army, Fariola was mustered in as Captain of the 2nd Engineers Corps D’Afrique, based at New Orleans. Still only in his twenties, he was appointed Lieutenant Colonel when the corps reformed as the 96th Engineers in 1864. It was one of a hundred and seventy-five African American regiments in the Union army.
Primarily an engineering outfit - commissioned to build pontoon bridges, corduroy roads, field fortifications, repairing piers and levees - the 96th had a comparatively light casualty rate, although many of its men were badly affected by malaria. The 96th also played a direct part in the five-day long siege of Forts Gaines and Forts Morgan, Alabama, in August 1864. This campaign helped secure the strategically important Mobile Bay for the Union navy.
Octave Fariola was mentioned in several war diaries of the period. He wasn't entirely loved by his troops, and his continental eating habits earned him the nickname “frog eater”. In spite of his lofty ways, he was no advocate of the widespread practice of shooting deserters however, believing it to be a total waste of human life. There is evidence that he advocated for clemency in several cases. There is evidence too that he was passing himself off as a European aristocrat during his time in America. The governor of New Orleans made reference in his diary to an encounter with the “magnificent Count Fariola” in 1863.
Further genealogical intrigue arises from Fariola’s claim in his Fenian writings that his real reason for traveling to America in 1863 was to settle on an inheritance and not to join the war effort at all. The passenger list for the SS City of New York , 27th July 1863, recorded his arrival in New York along with his wife Jeanne. Census records for the state of Louisiana failed to find any trace of a Eugene Libert or an Octave Fariola. The Fariolas travelled in steerage and gave their place of origin as Great Britain. Surprisingly Fariola described himself as a musician.