Fire Zouaves: A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words

20 07 2008

I recently purchased Bleeding Blue and Gray: Civil War Surgery and the Evolution of American Medicine by Ira M. Rutkow (2005).  On page 12:

Poised at the foot of Henry House Hill, the Eleventh New York Infantry, best known as the First Fire Zouaves, may never have seen Johnston’s troops as they gathered at the ridge’s crest, but Johnston’s men could not miss the Yankees.  Advancing up the slope, the 950 or so Northerners were a colorful lot.  Sporting dark blue waistcoats accented in red and gold trim, bright red blouses, flowing crimson bloomers with blue piping and white spats, all capped off by a red fez, these warriors were the height of mid-nineteenth-century military haute couture.

Double Yoi.  I’d tell you what Rutkow’s source for this description is, but he neglected to note it.

I know, I go on and on about the uniform of the 11th NY Fire Zouaves at Bull Run, including herehere, here, and here.  To recap, despite numerous, even eyewitness accounts to the contrary, the regiment’s enlisted men did not wear red pants during the battle.  In fact, at no time were red pants ever a part of their uniform, though officers wore red pants of the chasseur pattern.  But don’t take my word for it:

Above is a photo of the 11th NY Zouave uniform of Private Francis E. Brownell of Company A, on display at Manassas National Battlefield (thanks to Jim Burgess at the park).  Notice the color (gray-blue), the name of Brownell’s New York fire company on his belt, and his red fireman’s jersey.  This is the same uniform Brownell was wearing on May 24th, 1861, when he accompanied his colonel Elmer Ellsworth into Alexandria’s Marshall House hotel to pull down a secession banner flying from the building and visible through a glass from the White House.  As Ellsworth descended the stairs with the flag he was killed by a shotgun blast fired by the hotel’s proprietor, James Jackson.  Brownell, who was with Ellsworth, quickly shot Jackson in the face, then drove his saber bayonet through his body.

Ellsworth became a dead hero in the North, mourned by his friend Abraham Lincoln.  Jackson received similar posthumous honors in the south.  Brownell became a living celebrity, whose photo, complete with Ellsworth’s blood stained banner, became a popular item.

Brownell left the unit before First Bull Run, accepting a commission in the 11th US Infantry, and in 1877 he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his action at the Marshall House.  You’ll find his death notice here.

As you can read on this great website on the 11th, the regiment’s worn-out, gray-blue Zouave uniforms were grudgingly exchanged for standard union blue jackets and pants before First Manassas.  Many men continued to wear their distinctive red firemen’s shirts, and some may have worn red fezes, though the official uniform headgear as seen with Brownell was a kepi with company insignia and “1Z” for First Zouaves.  I think this image of the regiment fighting alongside the 69th New York Militia probably gives a good idea of what they looked like on the field at First Bull Run.

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15 responses

21 07 2008
Mike Peters


Lt. George Fergus of the iith NY tells a slightly different story of Ellsworth’s demise than does Brownell’s NY Times obit.

The NY Times claim that Ellsworth, Lt. Winser, the regimental chaplain, Brownell & several privates went to the roof, where Ellsworth cur down the flag & then the group descended with Elmer in the lead. The obit also says that Ellsworth took both barrels.

According to Lt. Fergus, Ellsworth posted one of his escorts at the front door of the Marshall House, another on the first floor & a third at the foot of the stairs. Brownell was stationed on the third floor. Ellsworth went to the roof, took down the flag & descended the stairs alone.

From “Reminiscences of Chicago during the Civil War” comes the following based on Lt. Fergus’ account:

“He secured the rebel flag, & in descending the stairs, which occupied 3 sides of a stairway hall, he heard a noise, immediately followed by a shot. Hastening down to ascertain the cause, he came around a turn just in time to receive the second charge of of a double-barreled shotgun in the hands of James W. Jackson, the landlord. It was aimed at Brownell, who had knocked the gun up. The first charged, also meant for Brownell, entered the casing of the door at the foot of the stairs. Brownell then shot Jackson, who was crazed with drink, having been on a spree for several days.”

Lt. Fergus was “present at the time with the regiment outside the hotel.” According to Fergus, the story was repeated many times by Brownell, the only witness to the incident.



22 07 2008
Harry Smeltzer

Thanks for that, Mike. Most accounts of what happened in the Marshall House use the qualifier “accounts vary”.


23 07 2008
Mike Peters


This is s regiment definitely in need of a regimental. It housed some colorful & interesting characters, outside of Brownell & Ellsworth. Lt. Col Noah “Pony” Farnham, who led the group at Bull Run & Crimean War vet & Surgeon Charles A. DeVilliers, just to name a couple.



10 08 2008
Gettysburg Fix « Bull Runnings

[…] As I headed back to my car, I passed this kiosk.  Yep, that face peering at you is non-other than Francis Brownell of the 11th New York Fire Zouaves, profiled here. […]


15 10 2008
Kilpatrick Family Ties - Part V « Bull Runnings

[…] the first Colonel of the 11th NY Fire Zouaves, was one of the war’s first martyrs (see here), and there was a multitude of babies born across the North in following years named for him.  […]


16 10 2008
Now Reading - Doctors in Blue « Bull Runnings

[…] that up with Bleeding Blue and Gray.  I had a bad experience with that book and wrote about it here.  Let me know if you’ve read any of these three, and what you think of […]


20 05 2009
Photo of a Fire Zouave? « Bull Runnings

[…] undecided.  The fireman’s shirt this fellow is wearing is a little different from that of Francis Brownell, on display at MNBP – the belt is different too, but I think each fire company had their […]


21 03 2010
The Red Brick Wall was the Color of a Brick-Red Crayola « Bull Runnings

[…] Jeez Louise.  I won’t go into what the 11th New York Infantry, Ellsworth’s Fire Zouaves did and did not wear and when they did and did not wear it.  Click on “Zouaves” in the tag cloud at the bottom of the right hand column of this page and you’ll find lots of articles on the topic.  The most definitive one is here. […]


19 04 2011
8 05 2014
11th New York Fire Zouaves Artifacts at Ft. Ward Museum | Bull Runnings

[…] VA. You can check out more on the story of Elmer Ellsworth, James Jackson, and Francis Brownell here. Enjoy! (Click on the photos for larger […]


28 10 2015
Sometimes I Wonder… | Bull Runnings

[…] topic by searching the tag 11th New York in the cloud at the bottom of the margin at right, but this post sums things up nicely, I […]


1 11 2018
THE FIRST CASUALTY: Ellsworth’s Ghost – Dixie Spirits blog

[…] of volunteers than he needed.  Although rough around the edges and short on discipline, the 11th NY “Fire” Zouaves were shipped south in short […]


2 02 2021
David Scott

It is February 2 2021. The Capitol was recently breached and we are now in the aftermath. How I am now drawn in to the story of Ellsworth Jackson and Brownell…


30 04 2022
Kim Bernard Holien

The shooting in the Marshall House occurred on May 24th, 1861. Kim Holien, retired US Army Historian (1979-2013), resident of Alexandria 1954-2016, a Founder of The Friends of Ft Ward & Past Pres of the Alexandria CWRT.

Liked by 1 person

30 04 2022
Harry Smeltzer

You are correct. All these years this post has been sitting out there, and you’re the first to notice. Thanks, Kim! I’ll correct it post haste.


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