Letter From the Fire Zouaves

20 07 2011

Here are two accounts from a member of the 11th New York Infantry, Lieutenant Edward Burgin Knox (that’s him on the left in the image on the left, when he was with the 44th NY, Ellsworth’s Avengers). Both are provided by Ron Coddington, the first in a New York Times Opinionator piece, and the second on Ron’s blog, Faces of War. Knox’s writing appeared in the Wisconsin Patriot on August 3, 1861. Ron generously provided the photo here and also has sent me a transcription of Knox’s account, which I’ll post to the Resources section soon.

“Cowardice” at First Bull Run

12 11 2010

Friend Lesley Gordon gave a talk a while back in Washington on First Bull Run, specifically the 11th New York and their experience there.  Take a look here

While you’re on the C-Span site, search “Civil War” and you’ll see a number of cool videos pop up.

Pvt. Drury P. Gibson, Company D, 1st Special Battalion Louisiana Infantry Before and After the Battle

31 07 2010

Camp Moore June 6, 1861

Dear Sister,

I again write to inform you that we are all well, and getting along tolerably well in drilling.

One of our men died yesterday with the pneumonia, his name was Patrick Sweeney. He was an Irishman and a good soldier, he was sick only five days, he died in his tent.

Several of the boys have been a little sick, though nothing serious, save that of poor Sweeney. One of the “Lafourche Guards” died a few days ago, he had the Typhoid Fever, those are the only deaths that we have had in camp since our arrival.

The “Catahoula Guerrillas” have been placed in the first Special Battalion, which when filled will be the 8th Regiment.

Two regiments left yesterday for Virginia. We will in all probability follow on in the course of two weeks.
One of our men deserted the other day. He was an unknown Irishman, our company numbers at the present, 100 Rank & File.

We have fine times, the men all seem to be well satisfied with the Camp life. We are quartered in a very healthy and pleasant country. There seems to be a disposition in some of our officers that has the subscription fund paid over to them, to get all they can, and keep all they get. The company have not been at any expense whatever since they left the shores of Catahoula and strange to say, there has not been one dime paid to any man in camp.

None of us are suffering or in particular need of money, but as it was paid into the treasury of the Company for the volunteers, I think it but just that it should be paid over to the company and some account rendered to the respecting contributions. At least such is my opinion of the matter. Other persons may perhaps think different notwithstanding.

I am going to keep my eyes open and watch passing events, and report to the public accordingly but, more some other time.

I am satisfied with the soldier’s life, but it is very confining and laborious to any one that has never been used to such a life.

The very flower of the South are engaged in this war. Companies are not formed of the lower classes in this war as in other wars. Men of intelligence, courage, and standing have taken up arms in defense of their homes, firesides and domestic institutions and they are invincible. We are bound to succeed or every man will perish in the effort.

I am well satisfied with my office 3rd Sergeant. I have all the benefits and privileges of an officer without such responsibilities and laborious duties that the higher officers have to go through with. We drill six hours every day, three hours in the morning and three in the evening. Nothing more at present.


August 1, 1861

I would have written before now, had a favorable opportunity presented itself; but owing to frequent movements and scarcity of writing materials, and all the time being in extreme outpost, I have delayed until the present leisure moment. We are stationary after cleaning out the Yankees on the memorable 21st of July 1861.

Previous to that battle we had been continually on the pact for two weeks. Maj. Wheat being an officer of experience and a noted character for scouting, we were placed on an outpost as soon as we arrived in Virginia, and kept there until Gen. Beauregard ordered us back to “Stone Bridge” to take a bold stand against the invading foe.

We were anxious to meet the enemy, in fact our hearts jumped for joy when we saw their bayonets glittering through the distant forrest. We were, especially the Guerillas, completely exhausted, we had been lying in ambush and marching around for two weeks, without tents or anything to cover us, save the canopy of heaven, it raining part of the time & at times with nothing to eat. I shall not pretend to give you an account of the battle of “Stone Bridge” as you no doubt have long since read all the particulars of that glorious victory in “your Delta”. Suffice to say that the “Catahoula Guerrillas” were the vanguard and had the honor and consolation of opening the battle on that occasion.

Catahoula has at last done something worthy of note, the names of her sons that were engaged in the battle of “Stone Bridge” will be handed down to future generations on the page of history, as souldiers and patriots, fighting for their homes, firesides, and to free our cherished sunny South of mercenary foes. Little did the avowed ________, foes of the Catahoula Guerrillas expect when we left Trinity that we would be identified and actors in one of the greatest victories that can be found in the annals of the nineteenth century.

All of the Louisiana troops are being concentrated at this place, Mitchell’s Ford on the Bull Run three miles below the Stone Bridge. We will rest here for awhile, if Davis don’t take a notion to march on Washington. We have got the Yankees whipped and I don’t think it will require much fighting to keep them so. We defeated the old regulars and best drilled men, and Sherman’s Artillery at Stone Bridge. It was not only a defeat but a route, a complete slaughter. Our total loss I suppose was about three hundred killed and one thousand wounded. The enemy lost some four or five thousand. The Battle field for miles was covered with dead and dying Yankees and our Cavalry completely slaughtered them when retreating or running. Every barn house, corner of the fence, and hollow top is full of dead, dying and wounded Yankees. I have had fine time of it, in cutting off their arms and legs, and dressing wounds. They seem to be very greatful for any attention for they know they deserve none. The northern army seems to be principally composed of foreigners, such as Elksworths Fire Zouaves, they are fighting for plunder. The New England states send native religious fanatics, especially Maine, Vermont and Michigan. None of the Lincolnites have been paid off and some of the prisoners say that they are not being well fed.

Among our prisoners I recollect of seeing several big buck Negroes marching in ranks, guns on sholdier as big as anybody. I reason it will be some time before you will see us if ever. I regretted very much the death of Hall and Elias Stone, they were both brave young men and fought like men and souldiers. Genticores was mortally wounded, he was sent to Richmond. I have not heard from him since. All the rest of our wounded are doing as well as could be expected. Maj. Wheat who at first was thought mortally wounded is improving some better. Our Battalion has been reported ready and willing for service. If you was to unknowingly happen into our camp I don’t think you would know any of us. We are so badly tan burnt and look so bad generally. Our health is tolerable good, but it makes one bear to be souldiers, marching around on half rations reduces all surplus fat, he is noting but bone and sinew. I have become so used to walking until I would rather walk than ride. I can lift three times as much now, as when I commenced souldiering. I think I have been considerably benefited.


August 12, 1861

…….the Catahoula Guerrillas are getting along tolerably well out here though several of the boys have been and are now sick. Four of our company has died from diseases, namely Sweeney, Peoples, Reinheardt and Ballard. We have had pretty warm times out here. You no doubt have long since heard of the great Battle of Stone Bridge on the 21st of July in which the Catahoula Guerrillas distinguished themselves for courage and bravery in maintaining firmly their position against overwhelming odds until we were sufficiently reinforced to shove the field of the mercenary and plundering Yankees. Wheat’s Battalion and five other regiments, in all numbering about five thousand effective men, held the enemy in check for two hours until our reinforcements came up; the enemy numbering at least fifty thousand, headed by all of the old United States regulars, Ellsworth Zouaves and Shermans celebrated light artillery. The Guerrillas fired the first guns, they opened the ball on that memorable occasion.

Poor Hall Stone and Elias Stone got killed in the battle. They were both mess-mates of mine. I very much regretted their untimely and premature deaths. Elias fell on the field during the action. When I saw that he was shot I asked if he was badly wounded. He said yes but I will give them another shot. He run his hand in his cartridge bag and fell dead in the act of loading his gun. Hall was mortally wounded, poor fellow, he struggled so hard against death. I never saw any one take death so hard, he said he wanted to live to revenge the death of Elias who fell by his side on the plains of Manassas. They were both buried with military honors side by side in the battlefield, in a beautiful place near some shade trees on a hill. We placed some stones at their heads to know the spot in future as a kind of a tomb stone. I think that we were very fortunate in getting only two killed and fifteen wounded, for I was shure or thought at one time that we would all be killed, and for my life even now. I don’t see how the remainder escaped unhurt. The balls came as thick as hail, grape bomb and canisters would sweep our ranks every minute, and strange to say the enemy only killed three hundred of our men.

One reason why they did not kill more of us, was because they overshot us. Their guns were ranged for a mile with raised sights so we closed in on the gentlemen, before they could lower their sights.

…….all of the Louisiana troops are here at Mitchell’s Ford on Bull Run on the main road between Manassas and Washington City. All of the Louisiana troops are under the command of Brigadier General Seymour of New Orleans. I have frequently heard of Mr. Cotton speak of Col., now Gen. Seymour. He is a fine officer and if the Yankees should take a fool notion and come this way, you will hear again from the Pelican State…..

Contributed by reader Stuart Salling, and published on his blog Louisiana in the Civil War on 7/24/10 (see here).  Originally published in the North Louisiana Historical Society newsletter in 1979.

Letters from Wheat’s Battalion

27 07 2010

Stuart Salling has posted these letters from a member of Wheat’s Battalion written before and just after the battle.

Stuart has given me the go-ahead to post these letters to the Bull Run Resources section, which I’ll be doing soon.  In the meantime, check them out on the Louisiana in the Civil War site.

Wheat’s Battalion

24 07 2010

Stuart Salling hosts the blog Louisiana in the Civil War, and also wrote the recently published Louisianians in the Western Confederacy – the Adams-Gibson Brigade in the Civil War.  A contributor to his site posted this article, about the Battalion from formation through First Bull Run.   Check it out.

The Red Brick Wall was the Color of a Brick-Red Crayola

21 03 2010

Right now I’m reading On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery, by Robert M. Poole – a 2009 publication.  Just getting into it, cruising along, not much to complain about (though I think I need to write up something on just who offered Robert E. Lee command of what).  But then I roll across this:

Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth, commander of the 1st New York Zouaves, piled into a steamboat with his men and sailed toward Alexandria.  This dandified regiment of firemen-soldiers was hard to miss, decked out in their red pantaloons, tasselled caps and white spats and brewing for a brawl.

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.

Thanks to Douglas Adams for the title of this post.

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Photo of a Fire Zouave?

20 05 2009

I received the following email early this morning, and reproduce it here very slightly edited with photos in place of links:

Dear Mr. Smeltzer,

I found your page doing some research on photograph that I recently acquired, and I am wondering if you can help me with it.

I believe, though I am by no means sure, that this is a portrait of a Fire Zouave. I will attach links to scans of the image, a sixth plate (2.5 x 3.5 inches) tintype:

1) The tintype, in its case:


2) A larger scan of the full plate, out of its frame, showing the horn:


3) A close-up of the fire horn and kepi:


4) A reversed scan of the lettering on the horn:


The evidence that he might be a Fire Zouave is as follows:

A) Dark (blue?) pants, which the 11th wore.

B) Red (tinted on the image) fireman’s shirt, with plastron. Also worn by the 11th.

C) The kepi with an oilcloth cover.

Most intriguing — and maddeningly so — is the lettering on the base of the horn. I can make out two S’s, with what looks like an I between them. After the second S, there looks to be either a T or an apostrophe followed by a letter. The I is possibly a numeral 1, in which case it might be “1st”. In any event, I can’t make out what the whole word would be. Probably either a town name or the name of his engine company.

My hypothesis is that this is a new recruit, displaying his two allegiances: to his firefighting unit and to his military unit.

Any help or hunches you might have would be greatly appreciated! As you can imagine, I am dying to get to the bottom on this image….


Gregory Fried

Professor and Chair, Philosophy Department

Suffolk University

 I’m 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 own:

Francis Brownell Uniform - Courtesy Manassas NBP

It is true that after a few weeks in the field the 11th NY ditched their blue-gray Zouave togs for Union blue, but they kept the red shirts as part of their ensemble.  However, there were other regiments recruited from fire companies that may also have worn the shirts; it’s also possible this photo depicts a soldier in more casual dress.  The horn could be a fire horn, could belong to the subject, or may simply be a photographer’s prop.

I know there are some readers out there who specialize in zouves, and some in portraits and photography, and some in the 11th NY specifically.  What do you all think?


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