The 5th New York Infantry regiment, also known as Duryée’s Zouaves was organized in New York City after President Abraham Lincoln’s call for the states to send 75,000 state militiamen “in order to suppress said combinations, and to cause the laws to be duly executed.”(i) They were officially mustered into Federal service, on May 9, 1861, as a two year regiment. Their commander, Colonel Abram Duryée, a wealthy New York businessman, was able to recruit the regiment, arm them and uniform them in less than a week. Many of the soldiers in the 5th New York’s ranks were well educated and had served in the well known 7th Regiment, New York National Guard. Their uniforms were modeled after the North African style of the French Zouaves. These bright uniforms had become well accepted in the state militias after the 1860 tour of Captain Elmer E. Ellsworth’s U.S. Zouave cadets. No less than fifty of these infantry regiments were established during the Civil War, but Duryée’s 5th New York would become one of the most famous.
After being mustered into the Federal service Colonel Duryée left New York City on May 23. Their destination was Fortress Monroe, Virginia, where they would arrive several days later. Assigned to US Brigadier General Ebenezer Pierce’s brigade, the 5th New York would be tasked with garrison duty at Newport News, Virginia, through July 1861. On June 10, 1861, they would participate in the Civil War’s first infantry battle at Big Bethel, Virginia where they would suffer 17 casualties – six of which were killed in action.(ii)
In July they would be transferred to US Major General John A Dix’s division. Garrisoned in Baltimore, they would serve in the city’s defenses through March 1862 when they were transferred to the US Colonel Gouverneur Warren’s Third brigade, US Brigadier General George Sykes’ Second Division of US Major General Fitz John Porter’s V Corps – Army of the Potomac. Arriving on the Virginia peninsula, in time for US Major General George B. McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign, they would initially see little action. While not directly engaged in the Battle of Seven Pines (also called Fair Oaks), they were able to witness the battle from north of the Chickahominy River, as two divisions of CSA General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate army attacked the III and IV Federal Corps, commanded by brigadier generals Samuel P. Heintzelman and Erasmus D. Keyes. After Seven Pines, with Joseph Johnston seriously injured, CSA General Robert E. Lee would officially take over command of what would soon be called the Army of Northern Virginia. Thus ended the Peninsula Campaign and started The Seven Days battles.
Robert E. Lee quickly showed his aggressiveness, pushing McClellan’s Army of the Potomac from the very “Gates of Richmond.” With McClellan starting a retrograde movement towards the James River, Robert E. Lee attacked Porter’s V Corps which was isolated east of the Chickahominy River, on June 27, 1862. During the ensuing Battle of Gaines’s Mill, Duryée’s 5th New York would receive its “”baptism of fire.” Positioned south of Boatswain Swamp, near the right-center of Porter’s 5th Corps line, Duryée’s Zouaves was supporting a Massachusetts artillery battery which had been raking the Confederate lines. The 1st South Carolina Rifles, of CSA Major General A.P. Hill’s Light Division, were ordered to charge and silence the battery. Charging across the creek, the South Carolinians issued their spine chilling Rebel yell. To protect the battery, the 5th New York jumped into action, issuing their own unique yell, “Zou, zou, zou!”(iii) They received the attack and a brutal hand-to-hand engagement commenced. With the aid of some of Sykes’ Regulars, they were able to repel the fierce attack, holding onto their position and allowing the Massachusetts artillerists to continue their deadly work. All told, the 1st South Carolina Rifles suffered a staggering 309 casualties that day -57% of their pre-battle strength. Duryée’s “Red Legs” 5th New York Volunteers would suffer 162 casualties, of which 38 were killed – roughly 36%. The entire “butcher’s bill” during Gaines’ Mill was a staggering 15,500.
After Gaines’ Mill, the entire Army of the Potomac pushed south, towards Harrison’s Landing on the James River. With Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia on their heels, they would fight rear guard actions at Savage’s Station and Glendale (also called Frayser’s Farm), before they had created a very defensible position at Malvern Hill. The Battle of Malvern Hill decimated the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and allowed McClellan to extricate his Army of the Potomac from the Peninsula. The 5th New York would be help cover the retreat of the Federal army from Malvern Hill.
Duryée and the 5th New York would continue to be posted at Harrison’s Landing until August 15, when they moved by steamer to Fortress Monroe. Meanwhile, Abraham Lincoln had created the Army of Virginia, which was commanded by US Major General John Pope. While Robert E. Lee was pushing McClellan from the peninsula, Lee detached CSA Major General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s wing to harass the movements of Pope’s Federal army. They would meet at the Battle of Cedar Mountain, on August 9, where Jackson’s forces, augmented by A.P. Hill’s Light Division would repulse US Major General Nathaniel Banks’ II Corps, Army of Virginia. Over the coming days Jackson would push his two divisions north, capturing the Federal supply depot at Manassas Station, on August 26. He would take the supplies he could use, and put a torch to the rest of the Federal supply depot. By August 28, Jackson had his divisions arrayed north of the Warrenton Turnpike, near Groveton, Virginia. Positioned in an unfinished railroad cut, he awaited the arrival John Pope’s Army of Virginia. Meanwhile, Robert E. Lee, wanting to destroy Pope’s army, before McClellan could arrive to reinforce him, pushed the rest of his Army of Virginia north to augment the forces commanded by Jackson.
Arriving at Alexandria during the third week of August, McClellan detached Heintzelman’s III Corps, Porter’s V Corps and US Major General Jesse Reno’s IX Corps, sending them to reinforce Pope’s army for the inevitable battle near Manassas Junction. On August 29, the Battle of Second Manassas would open when Pope’s I Corps, commanded by US Major General Franz Sigel, and III Corps, commanded by US Major General Irvin McDowell, attacked Jackson’s forces in the railroad cut. The fighting would be intense with several attacks, and counterattacks, occurring throughout the day. With darkness covering the battlefield, the two armies would hold roughly the same position they held at the start of the day’s fighting.
The 5th New York Volunteer Infantry would arrive, with Porter’s V Corps, during the afternoon of August 29. Ordered to attack Jackson’s right flank, Porter slowly moved his corps along the Manassas Gap Railroad towards his objective, Gainesville, Virginia. Unfortunately, Pope’s orders were unclear, stating that the army may need to pull back to Centreville, Virginia, which essentially halted Porter. His corps would see very little action on August 29, other than some minor skirmishing with CSA Major General J.E.B. Stuart’s Cavalry division.
At 7:00 a.m. on August 31, Pope met with his senior lieutenants. With overnight and early morning intelligence providing faulty information that the Confederate army was retreating, Pope determined to fall on the rear of the retreating column. Porter’s V Corps would spearhead the attack, north of the Warrenton Turnpike. This same ground had been fiercely fought over, on August 29, by US Major General Philip Kearny’s division of Heintzelman’s III Corps, Army of the Potomac. Unfortunately, for the Federal cause, Pope was extremely indecisive on the morning of August 30. While they agreed upon a plan to attack the retreating Confederates, no formal orders were issued. As historian John J. Hennessy writes in his epic campaign study, “Return to Bull Run,” Pope’s “enthusiasm for the plan disappeared with the dew on the morning’s grass.”(iv) After the morning meeting, with his V Corps arriving on the field, Porter had an extended conversation with Pope. He attempted to convince Pope that Lee’s Army of Virginia not only remained on the field, but its right flank extended far south of the Warrenton Turnpike – probably all the way to the Manassas-Gainesville Road. Pope dismissed not only Porter’s solid advice but the advice of US Brigadier General John F. Reynolds who fought the Rebels south of the turnpike, the previous day. Pope would leave the meeting – allowing the commanders to act on their own – with no official orders.
Meanwhile, on the Confederate side, Robert E. Lee had masterfully placed CSA Major General James Longstreet’s right wing, from Brawner’s Farm, on the north, to the Manassas Gap Railroad, on the south. The northern portion of Longstreet’s line, commanded by division commander Brigadier General Cadmus Wilcox, connected with Jackson’s right flank, near the railroad cut. Lee’s tactical plan was to have Longstreet’s entire wing pivot on Wilcox’s left flank pounding into the left flank of Pope’s position, held by Porter. Essentially, Longstreet’s movement would be like a door swinging closed on the Federal position, with the right flank of his lines covering the longest distance. This masterful plan would catch Pope unaware, as he believed Lee was retreating, and collapse his lines south to north. Pope’s indecisiveness played right into Lee’s hands.
During the morning, and early afternoon, Porter arranged his troops. Most of his corps were arrayed north of the Warrenton Turnpike. Porter’s plan called for the attack to be made by Sykes’ division and portions of US Major General George Morrell’s division. Sykes’ Third Brigade, commanded by Colonel Gouverneur K. Warren was posted on high ground east of Lewis Lane, but south of the turnpike. Composed of the 5th and 10th New York Volunteer Infantry regiments, Warren’s small brigade was in a very exposed position on the far left flank of the Federal army. Besides protecting the flank, they were to provide infantry support to US Lieutenant Charles “Cog” Hazlett’s Battery D, 5th U.S. Artillery. Posted behind Warren’s lone brigade was the brigade of US Colonel Nathaniel C. McLean of US Brigadier General Robert C. Schenck’s First Division, Franz Sigel’s I Corps Army of Virginia. They were posted near Bald Hill, approximately 3/4 of a mile behind Warren’s brigade.
Fitz John Porter’s attack commenced at approximately 3:00 p.m. Attacking towards the northeast, they slammed into the right flank of Jackson’s wing. Directly in the Federals’ path were the veteran brigades of CSA brigadier generals William E. Starke and Alexander R. Lawton. While experiencing some early success, Porter’s attack was not coordinated. The first Federal troops to push towards the unfinished railroad cut were those of US Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield. Porter originally planned to send in Sykes’ entire division to support Butterfield, but changed his mind as he observed the Confederate artillery action on Butterfield’s lines. Posted between the two Confederate army wings were the large artillery commands of Colonel Stephen D. Lee and Major L.M. Shumaker. They were well placed between the two army wings and were able to enfilade the path of Butterfield’s brigade. Further to his right, Porter allowed US Brigadier General John Hatch’s division, of Irvin McDowell’s III Corps, Army of Virginia, to push forward with their attack. They only needed to march over 300 yards of open ground – half what Butterfield’s brigade was traversing. The piecemeal attack Pope initiated was easily repulsed by the veteran Confederate soldiers in the unfinished railroad cut. The Federal soldiers would stream back quickly after facing heavy musketry to their front, and heavy artillery fire enfilading them from their left.
Longstreet and Lee could both observe Porter’s failing attack. At one point Lee only planned to use Longstreet’s right wing as a diversion. Now, Lee believed he had the opportunity to crush Pope’s Army of Virginia. At 4:00 p.m., Longstreet ordered his five divisions into action. Their objective was to reach the Henry House Hill, site of the first battle of Bull Run, from where they could push north into Pope’s unsuspecting Army of Virginia. The only Federal troops positioned in Longstreet’s path were the two lone brigades of Warren, east of Lewis Lane, and McLean, on Chinn Ridge.
To say Warren was concerned about his forward position is an understatement. After watching Porter’s attack and subsequent repulse, north of the Warrenton Turnpike, Warren expected to see the Confederates at any moment. With six companies of his 10th New York deployed as skirmishers near Lewis Lane and Duryée’s 5th New York Volunteers posted about 200 yards behind Hazlett’s artillery, Warren faced insurmountable odds. The 5th New York were in a position Hennessy describes as “calculated for comfort, not defense,” and were unaware of the imminent attack of Longstreet’s divisions. After their hard fighting, during the Seven Days, the well drilled Zouaves numbered around 560 men – 60 of which were new recruits. Commanding them today was Cleveland Winslow – a promising officer, but one the troops would consider a martinet. Unknown to Winslow, and his troops, CSA Brigadier John Bell Hood’s division - and more specifically his Texas brigade - were approximately one half mile in their front. The Texas Brigade was a battle hardened group and included the 1st, 4th and 5th Texas regiments, the 18th Georgia and the Hampton South Carolina Legion.
Shortly after 4:00 p.m., the 5th New York received some warning of the impending attack when a company of the 10th New York suddenly appeared on their left. Alfred Davenport, a private in the 5th, recalled they were “huddled in a heap and much scared.” They warned the enemy was coming and would be on their left at any moment. Winslow wasted little time, making the order, “Attention battalion!” The battle hardened Zouaves quickly grabbing their rifles and formed a line to receive the Hood’s onslaught. Taking into consideration the 10th New York Infantry’s warning, the battle line was faced towards the left. Before fully formed, however, the 5th New York’s line began receiving musketry. One soldier described it well, “The balls began to fly from woods like hail. It was a continual hiss, snap, whiz and sluck.” The sluck being the sound of minie balls hitting flesh.(v)
Confusion reigned amongst the Zouaves as they leveled their muskets and prepared to return fire at the soldiers, barely seen, through the smoke, when someone yelled, “Don’t fire! Those men below to the Tenth!” Unfortunately, the men of the six companies of the 10th were between the enemy lines preventing the Zouaves from firing. With the officers of the 10th New York trying to rally their troops, the men of the 5th were forced to wait for them to pass to the rear, before they could engage the Texas Brigade. As Warren attempted to get the 10th pulled back, men in both Federal regiments were falling. Two color bearers of the 10th fell in the rapidly unfolding melee while Hazlett’s 5th U.S. Artillery battery continued to fire into the rapidly advancing line of Texans. By this time, Duryée’s Zouaves had pushed forward to offer support to “Cog’s” battery which was in serious jeopardy of being captured. Unknown to the 5th New York, or Hazlett, was that the 1st Texas had fallen behind the rest of the Texas Brigade and were not yet upon them. This gave Hazlett time to limber his guns and move to a safer place on Dogan Ridge – north of the Warrenton Turnpike.
Unfortunately, to Hazlett’s left were the unlucky men of the 5th New York Volunteers. Having been caught unable to return fire, with the 10th New York retreating to their front, they suffered terribly in what John Hennessy described in his chapter the “Vortex of Hell.” Men were literally falling inn rows as the Texas Brigade came upon them. Forced to retreat towards Henry House Hill, nearly a mile to their rear, the few remaining Zouaves gathered around the regimental flag, which Warren had ordered jabbed into the ground. As Hennessy described in his authoritative narrative on Second Manassas, “Warren sat immobile on his horse, looking back as if paralyzed, while a handful of his men, formed in files of four, blackened with dust and smoke, stood under the colors as silent as statues, gazing vacantly….A murmur of surprise and horror passed through the ranks of our Regulars at the fate of this brave regiment.” With only sixty of its men filing under the regimental flag on Henry Hill, five hundred lay scattered - dead, wounded or missing - on the stubble field one mile to the west. The scene of slaughter was not missed by the charging Confederates, with one of Hood’s men stating the scene was “a ghastly, horrifying spectacle.”(vi) Nearly 300 brave Zouaves were shot, 120 killed. This would endure as the largest single loss of life, in any one Federal regiment, during the entire Civil War – and it happened in only ten minutes. Forty-five years later, when the survivors of the regiment gathered to dedicate their monument, one member was quoted as saying, “War has been designated as Hell, and I can assure you that where the regiment stood that day was the very vortex of Hell.”(vii) Unfortunately, the Zouave blood of the 5th New York Volunteers, spread on the hill east of Lewis Lane, was shed in vain. Longstreet’s scissor movement, into the left flank of John Pope’s Army of Virginia, was decisive – completely routing the Federal army and sending the army pellmell back towards Washington. In the aftermath of the battle, Pope would be sent west to Minnesota and George McClellan would once again command all the Federal armies in the Eastern Theater.
Abram Duryée’s proud 5th New York Zouaves would continue to fight with the Army of the Potomac’s V Corps. They were a shadow of their former strength, but would see further action at Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville before their two year term of enlistment expired. They officially mustered out of Federal service on May 14, 1863 with their replacements being assigned to the 146th New York Infantry regiment.
The proud 5th New York Zouaves will always be remembered for their gallant actions at Second Manassas. Today, their monument can be viewed by today’s generation of Civil War students, and future enthusiasts, on the ground they gave their “last full measure” to defend. These proud Americans will always be remembered by me as true American HEROS!
(i) Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln, published by Simon & Schuster in 1995, Pg. 296.
(ii) For additional information, see 5th New York Volunteer Infantry Company C, by clicking HERE.
(iii) Sears, Stephen W., To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign, published by Ticknor & Fields in 1992, Pg. 224.
(iv) Hennessy, John J., Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas, published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 1999, Pg. 312.
(v) Hennessy, John J., Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas, published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 1999, Pg. 369.
(vi) Hennessy, John J., Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas, published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 1999, Pg. 372.
(vii) Hennessy, John J., Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas, published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 1999, Pg. 373.