Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 42, Part I

By Holice and Debbie



(Eleventh N. Y. S. V.). -- Brave Deeds that have gone into History. -- The Firemen Gallantly Respond to President Lincoln's appeal for Men. -- Formation of the First Regiment of Fire Zouaves. -- On to Washington. -- Death of Colonel Ellsworth. -- Colonel Farnham Taken from The Field in a Dying Condition. -- Captain Jack Wildey. -- Colonel Leoser. -- Lieutenant Divver. --T he Second Regiment of Fire Zouaves. -- Their Valiant Services in the Field.

When the gun was trailed on Sumter from which was fired the shot that, in no very metaphorical sense, may be said to have been "heard around the world," like that which woke the echoes of Bunker Hill when the "embattled farmers" stood in array for the defense of their rights, no class of our citizens more quickly rose to the level of the great occasion, or more heartily responded to President Lincoln's appeal for men, than did the Volunteer firemen of New York City. Nor was there anything in their subsequent record that indicated, at any period of the war, the slightest diminution in the earnest patriotism which inspired them at the beginning of the struggle. Although early deprived of their especial military organization, they were ever ready, around whatever regimental flag they may have rallied, to use their best efforts towards the suppression of the rebellion. Thus, as it will be seen, the record of the Volunteer Firemen of New York, wherever made, and led by whatever officers they may have enlisted under, was one which both they and their fellow-citizens may contemplate with unmixed satisfaction. The first Fire Zouaves, officially known as the Eleventh new York, was recruited amid a tempest of enthusiasm, and with a celerity that will hardly be credited in less heroic days, a quarter of a century after the event. Colonel Ellsworth seemed to have infused some of his own restless energy into the firemen of that time, and every engine house was turned into a recruiting station. In some cases as many as eighteen and twenty men volunteered out of a single company, and the question was not who were to go, but who were to be so unfortunate as to be left behind. It thus took but a few days to rally the eleven hundred men that pushed onto Annapolis, but it was not the number so much as the extraordinary spirit and dash of its members that characterized this representative regiment. Colonel Ellsworth, breaking through the red-tape regulations that would have retained him in the vicinity of New York until a more convenient season, and having obtained the necessary arms directly from Washington instead of through the state officials, ignoring all obstacles, marched his men to the defense of the national capital in advance of its other defenders. Arrived in Washington, the first day to which the regiment was assigned was the extinguishing of a fire in that well-known hostelry, Willard's Hotel. They went into camp on the Maryland side of the Potomac, and captured Alexandria May 24, where the gallant Ellsworth met his glorious fate. On the twenty-ninth the regiment moved to Shooter's Hill. About June 5, a picket-guard was detailed for duty at McCloud's Mills, when one man was killed and one wounded. This was the first loss in the field.

These were the officers in command of the First Regiment of First Fire Zouaves (Eleventh Regiment, N. Y. S. V.):

Elmer E. Ellsworth, Colonel.

Noah L. Farnham, Lieutenant-Colonel, 
Assistant Engineer Hook and Ladder Company No. 1.
John A. Cregier, Major, Assistant Engineer Hose No. 40.
Charles McK. Leoser, Adjutant.


Company A, John Coyle

Hose 22

Company B, Edward Byrnes

Engine 16

Company C, Michael C. Murphy

Hose 41

Company D, John Downey

Engine 34

Company E, John B. Leverich

Hose 7

Company F, William H. Burns

Engine 6

Company G, Michael Teagen

Engine 13

Company H, William Hackett

Engine 20, Assistant Engineer

Company I, John Wildey

Engine 11

Company K, Andrew D. Purtell

Engine 14

When the First Zouaves left the city, they left it as a "three months' regiment' (sworn in April 20, 1861). On the seventh of May they were sworn in to serve during the war. The Zouaves performed picket duty in the vicinity of the Mills until July 16, when orders were given to march on to Bull Run. The command, on the death of Colonel Ellsworth, had developed upon the brave Farnham, who was serving as lieutenant-colonel, and whoa t the time of enlisting was one of the engineers of the New York Fire Department. On the night of the seventeenth the regiment encamped at Fairfax Station, and ina brisk encounter with the enemy captured a sergeant and several men belonging to a South Carolina regiment, together with the first Rebel flag that came into its possession. On the morning of the eighteenth orders came to push forward to Centreville, and when within five miles of that place the men were ordered, at double-quick, to the support of the Sixty-ninth, Seventy-ninth, and Twelfth New York, then in action. In this brush only three or four men were wounded, and none killed. On the morning of the twenty-first another start was made for Bull Run. Colonel Farnham had been in the hospital, but left his sick bed to assume command. During the battle that ensued he was shot behind the left ear and taken to Washington, where he died. The record of the regiment in this, it first engagement of any consequence, was a noble one; from seventy-five to one hundred killed, two hundred wounded, and one hundred and twenty-five taken prisoners. But this was not all. Before falling back on Centreville, the well-known Captain Jack Wildey and a few men performed one of the most gallant deeds of the war. Reckless of his own fate, Captain Wildey threw himself upon a party of the confederates, and recaptured from them the colors of the Sixty-ninth New York, which he restored to their owners.

The next encampment of the regiment was at Shooter's Hill (Fort Ellsworth). Two weeks later, orders were given to return to New York, that the depleted ranks might be filled up to the original strength. While there, the regiment was stationed at Scarsdale, Bedloe's Island, and the Battery. In September, being again ready for duty, and now under command of Colonel Leoser, the Zouaves were ordered to New port News. In the meantime, the regiment had been largely reofficered: Major John a. Cregier, assistant engineer of the Fire Department and the first Major of the regiment, had resigned on reaching New York, Captain McFarland of Company H, being promoted to be major in his stead. He was a Seventh Regiment man, as were the majority of the new officers. After reaching Newport News the regiment was engaged in several skirmishes, among the one near Young's Mills while on a foraging expedition, when twelve of the Zouaves were taken prisoners, among them Corporal Richard Gleason, of company A, who was afterwards shot dead by a sentry at Libby Prison for looking out of a window.

Colonel Leoser now asked permission for the regiment to join the expedition to Norfolk, but the request was denied. This seemed to throw a damper upon the entire organization, as it was evidently the intention of the authorities to keep the men engaged in garrison duty, while all the fighting was to be done, all the chances of promotion taken, by the more fortunate members of other commands. The result of such a policy, when the spirit of patriotism and adventure which characterized the First Zouaves is taken into consideration, may be readily imagined. Colonel Leoser and a majority of the officers resigned, and numbers of the men when mustered out enlisted in other regiments, many going with Banks to new Orleans.

While on the Peninsula, however, the men were not allowed to be idle. The regiment participated ina couple of skirmishes at Newmarket and Big Bethel, while encamped at Newport News. During the famous engagement, March 8, 1862, between the "Merrimac" and the "Monitor" and the "Cumberland," the regiment occupied rifle pits onshore with a view to repel any force the enemy might attempt to land. One company, under command of Colonel Leoser, had charge of a 12-lb. rifled gun, which he himself sighted and fired from the bluff.

The First Zouaves were soon sent home, and mustered out of the service, June 2, 1862, at Fort Columbus, New York Harbor, by order of the War Department. Lieutenant-colonel McFarland, (one of the Seventh Regiment officers), after colonel Leoser resigned his command and joined the regular service, took command of the regiment at Newport News, and came home with them to be mustered out at Governor's Island.

Having thus no longer any regiment organization, the identity of the First Fire Zouaves became merged, in the persons of its original members, with that of the other corps during the remainder of the war. As soldiers serving under other colors, the New York "fire laddies" never failed to give a good account of themselves, and wherever the fighting as the hottest, the danger greatest, they were sure to be found; thus proving how great a mistake the authorities of the War Department had made when they mustered out of service a body of men like to First fire Zouaves and condemned them tot he monotony of doing garrison duty. On the other hand, had the matter been decided by those possessing ordinary discernment and common sense, and had not adverse influences been at work, a regiment composed of such material would have been pushed to the front, given work worthy of it to do, and afford an opportunity to reflect credit upon the organization that under such circumstances would have been so dear to them. Among those who cast in their lot with other regiments, when they found the opportunity for promotion denied them in their own, be mentioned, Thomas Riley, who served as an adjutant in General Spinola's brigade, and was killed at the Battle of the Black Waster. Captains Coyle and Murphy enlisted in the Irish Legion, and served until the end of the war. Captain Byrne joined the Eighteenth New York Cavalry and came home a brigadier-general, Captain Murphy returned as colonel. Sergeant Garvey, Company A, went out as lieutenant and returned as captain in the Fourth New York. He was wounded in the last engagement of the war at Appomattox Courthouse. Lieutenant Powers, originally of Company A, and afterwards transferred to Company I, served throughout the war. Corporal Donnelly, Company A, enlisted in the Seventy-second New York, and was killed in the Battle of the Wilderness, in which Private Meek, who had joined the same regiment, also lost his life. Corporal Ebling, of Company A, was among the killed at the first battle of Bull Run. Private Kane, of Company G, also went out in the Eighteenth New York Cavalry, and returned as first lieutenant.

Of those who fought through the war and are today still doing yeoman work in the Fire Department, must be mentioned Private O'Rorke, who volunteered in the eighty-four New York, and returned in 1864. Sergeant-Major Goodwin went out in another regiment and came home captain. William Kennedy and Thomas Curtis returned respectively captain and lieutenant of the One Hundred and Sixty-second New York Volunteers.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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