Tuesday, August 28, 2012

History stuff: 150 years ago...

Destruction of the 5th New York Zouaves

Battle of Second Manassas

From America's Civil War Magazine (


Of the dozens of colorfully outfitted Zouave regiments that served in the Civil War — units whose uniforms were inspired by the exotic regalia of the famed French colonial troops — none surpassed the reputation of the 5th New York Volunteer Infantry for tactical proficiency, military discipline and steady bearing under fire. Organized in April 1861 by wealthy Manhattan lumber merchant Abram Duryée, the unit attracted many young professionals to its ranks — students, college graduates, lawyers and businessmen. ‘I expect every man to do his duty and I expect to do mine,’ Colonel Duryée told his assembled troops as they prepared to embark for Virginia. ‘I intend to make this regiment a glory for the State.’

Bloodied in the clash at Big Bethel in June 1861, Duryée’s Zouaves subsequently spent eight months on garrison duty in Baltimore, Md., where they continued to hone their tactical skills under a new commander, Colonel Gouverneur Kemble Warren. Private William McIlvaine characterized Warren as ‘very efficient’ but found his personality ‘cold, precise and scientific.’

On the last day of March 1862, the Zouaves disembarked on the Virginia Peninsula, where they joined Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac in the campaign intended to capture Richmond. Colonel Warren was soon given command of a brigade in Brig. Gen. George Sykes’ division of the V Corps. It was a distinct honor for the Duryée Zouaves and their comrades of the 10th New York ‘National Zouaves,’ as the other units in Sykes’ command were troops of the U.S. Regular Army. Regular infantryman Augustus Meyers conceded the Zouaves’ ‘discipline, efficiency and drill was not equaled by any other volunteer regiment in the Army of the Potomac,’ while artillery Major Charles Wainwright thought the 5th New York was ‘equal in all respects to the regulars and better drilled.’

In the ferocious clash at Gaines’ Mill on June 27, 1862, the men of the 5th proved they were more than colorful parade ground ornamentation, launching repeated assaults with fixed bayonets against the oncoming Confederates and losing 162 of the 450 men engaged. ‘Our regiment well sustained its reputation,’ Private Richard Ackerman wrote his father. ‘The Regulars think everything of it, and they almost deify Colonel Warren.’ A captured and released Federal surgeon informed Warren of the enemy’s admiration for the colorful New Yorkers, reporting, ‘From their Generals on down through all grades they concluded that they never had seen the superiors of the ‘red legs’ for unflinching courage and coolness.

With their ranks thinned by battle and disease to the point that some companies were led by sergeants, and their uniforms soiled by months of fruitless campaigning, the 5th New York departed McClellan’s base at Harrison’s Landing on August 14. Along with the rest of the V Corps, they were bound for service with Maj. Gen. John Pope’s forces in northern Virginia. As they prepared to board a northbound steamer at Newport News they were joined by nearly 100 new recruits, whose pale faces, full knapsacks and immaculate Zouave finery were in striking contrast to those of the sunburned and tattered veterans. Colonel Warren still exercised brigade command, and Captain Cleveland Winslow, the eldest son of the unit’s patriarchal fighting chaplain, Dr. Gordon Winslow, was in charge of the regiment. A severe disciplinarian with an almost fanatical insistence on military formality, the dapper captain was far from popular with the rank and file. ‘He has one large bump of self esteem which occupies the whole of his brain,’ Private Alfred Davenport lamented. ‘He has drum & bugle calls for everything except the calls of nature.

By August 29 the Zouaves had arrived at Manassas Junction. Major Rufus Dawes of the 6th Wisconsin, a regiment savaged in the fight at Brawner’s Farm on August 28, recalled the arrival of Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter’s V Corps and how the hardened veterans jibed at those they considered ’something quite inferior to the Army of the Potomac.’ Dawes heard one man respond to a Zouave’s disparaging remark: ‘Wait till you get where we have been. You’ll get the slack taken out of your pantaloons and the swell out of your heads.’ The statement was to prove tragically prophetic.

Like the rest of Fitz Porter’s corps, Warren’s troops took no part in the fighting on August 29. On the morning of August 30, however, the brigade moved closer to the scene of battle. But while elements of the V Corps prepared to renew the attack on Maj. Gen. Thomas J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson’s forces — posted along the grade of an unfinished railroad — Warren’s 1,100 men remained in reserve on the Warrenton Turnpike.

Some Zouaves took advantage of the lull to boil coffee while others chatted, or bantered with the passing columns of Union soldiers. After washing his face in a little stream, Company F Captain George Hager proudly displayed his new gold-braided officer’s jacket to a group of enlisted men. ‘Boys,’ the captain laughed, ‘won’t I make a fine-looking corpse?’ The officer’s bravado masked a grimly realistic sense of the dangers ahead. ‘If I die t’is in a noble cause,’ Hager had written his family, ‘and one too, that had I stayed inactive at home, I should blush to say I did not join in.’

In early afternoon, 1st Lt. Charles E. Hazlett’s Battery D, 5th U.S. Artillery, came rumbling up the road alongside Warren’s troops. Warren called his men to attention, and Captain Winslow detailed a squad from Company E to tear down a section of rail fence so that Hazlett’s Parrott guns could deploy atop the knoll south of the pike. At that moment several enemy shells exploded nearby, splintering the fence posts. ‘All right!’ Zouave Corporal John Carroll laughed nervously. ‘If the Johnnies want to take down the fence I’m willing to stand aside!’

At approximately 2 p.m., Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds’ division abandoned its position on Hazlett’s left, moving east to Chinn Ridge. An hour later Reynolds was ordered north, across the Warrenton Pike, to join in the assault on Jackson’s force, which was still holding its position along the unfinished railroad. Unwilling to believe the warnings of a Confederate presence opposite his left, John Pope was fixated on Jackson’s destruction, marshaling his forces to achieve that end.

The departure of Reynolds’ division concerned Hazlett, who had been ordered to the knoll south of the pike by corps commander Porter. The lieutenant rode to his left and saw that all his support had gone, ‘not even leaving pickets.’ Realizing the vulnerability of his position, Hazlett asked Colonel Warren ‘if he could not give me some support while I sent back word to General Porter of the state of affairs.’

Warren called his brigade to attention, ordering the men to toss away their coffee. Most did so, though some still toted steaming tin cups as they maneuvered into line facing a 75-acre wood to the left of Hazlett’s guns. Behind them, at the foot of an open slope, flowed Young’s Branch, a tributary of Bull Run. On the opposite side of the muddy stream rose the western face of Chinn Ridge, dotted with small cedar trees and the occasional clump of pines. All seemed quiet.

Uncertain if any Confederate forces lay beyond the woods to his front, Colonel Warren rode to the left of the brigade and ordered Colonel John E. Bendix of the 10th New York to send six companies forward as skirmishers. Bendix allotted the detail to his lieutenant colonel, John W. Marshall. Largely clad in blue regulation issue as they awaited the arrival of new Zouave attire, the National Zouaves moved west through the trees to the fields that lay beyond. The remaining four companies of the 10th New York stayed in reserve on the left front of the 5th.

Hazlett’s guns fired a few shells, and north of the pike the roar of battle grew in intensity. But except for an occasional shot from the skirmish line, for the better part of two hours it remained quiet in Warren’s sector. Muskets were stacked, and the troops rested in place, some taking the opportunity for a catnap. More than an hour passed.

The skirmishers of the 10th New York were engaged in a desultory firefight with their Confederate counterparts when, just after 4 p.m., the Rebel skirmish line suddenly rose and started forward. The significance of their movement became immediately and shockingly apparent. Rank after rank of Southern troops emerged from the cover of a wood line, and came sweeping across the fields like a vast, gray wave, flecked with glinting steel and crowned with blood-red battle flags. It was Maj. Gen. James Longstreet’s corps, nearly 30,000 strong, and the first obstacle in their way was Captain Cleveland Winslow’s little regiment...

Read the whole article:

No comments:

Post a Comment