Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 42, Part IV

By Holice and Debbie


Of all the regiments which the Empire State sent to the front during the Civil War, none made a more honorable record than the Second Fire Zouaves. It was organized May 3, 1861, and consisted almost entirely of fireman and runners. At first Governor Morgan declined the services of the regiment, since it was supposed that enough troops to suppress the rebellion had already been raised. Not until the early part of July did the Zouaves go into "Camp Decker," on Staten Island. The camp was named in honor of Chief Decker, of the Fire Department, who was very active in recruiting the regiment. Even when the boys, eight hundred and fourteen strong, started for the front, August 23, 1861, they had not been recognized by the Albany authorities, and had no State number. Private enterprise had organized and equipped the regiment, which was at first known simply as the Fourth Regiment of the Excelsior Brigade. Fire Commissioner Henry Wilson, Thomas Lawrence, Henry Graham, and Judge Dusenbury were among the public-spirited men who aided in the work of Gen. Sickles' Excelsior Brigade. They were mustered into service as United States volunteers.

Colonel James Fairman, who had been organizing a regiment for the Sickles Brigade, agreed to take the companies as they were formed, company by company, and turn over his companies to the other regiments in the same brigade. He eventually did so, and mustered in eight companies of the Second Fire Zouaves at Camp Scott, on Staten Island. The other two companies being mustered in at the camp in Maryland, there was an agreement with the officers of the regiment that they would elect Fairman to the colonelcy, and he started with the regiment. He was, however, relieved of his command on the way to the boat, and Major Moriarty placed in command, which he retained until the regiment was encamped at Mendian Hill, on the outskirts of Washington. The privates of the regiment were in favor of Fairman, and for a time the excitement ran high. When the regiment went into Camp McClellan, in Maryland, just across the river from Washington, the officers held an election for colonel, and William R. Brewster, of Brooklyn, was elected, receiving the votes of all the commissioned officers of the regiment, excepting those of Capt. Daniel Crowley, Company D, formerly member of Engine Company 20; Lt. Wm. Gleeson, Company D, formerly member of Engine Company 3; Lt. John Skelin, Company D, also of Engine Company 20; Lt. J. Hamilton, Company 16, member of Company 14; and Lt. Evans. Col. Brewster proved himself to be an honorable gentleman and a brave soldier, and continued in command of the regiment until the end of the war. The regiment went from Camp McClellan to Point Matthias, and afterwards to Port Tobacco, Md., and from there to join the Army of the Potomac. Below are the names of the other officers: Field and staff--Lieut. Colonel, Louis Benedict; Major, John D. Moriarty; Adjutant, George LeFort; Surgeon, Henry P. Bostwick; Assistant Surgeon, Frank Ridgeway; Quartermaster, John A. McCosker; Chaplain, Rev. Joseph B. O'Hagen.

Non-Commissioned Staff.
Sergeant-major, Henry H. Lewis.
Quartermaster-sergeant, James T. Brady.
Drum-major, John Ross.
Fife-major, John McIntyre.
Company Commanders


A.  M. W. Burns

Hose 21

B. Thomas Smith

Hose 56

C. A. Gibson

Hook and Ladder 15

D.  Daniel Crowley

Engine 20

E. William M. Fisk

Engine 32

F. Alfred A. Donald

Engine 17

G. John Feeney

Hose 50

H. William McCaully

Engine 40

I. Charles B. Elliott

Hose 7, Williamsburg

K.  Michael D. Purtell


Among the minor officers may be mentioned:

Lieutenants William Gleeson

Engine 3

John J. Glass

Engine 16

Eugene C. Stine

Engine 31

John Phelan

Hose 10

Michael Feeny

Hose 6

Matthew Stewart

Hose 50

John T. Lawrence

Hose 11

Washington Mullen

Hose 22

John P. Skehan

Engine 20

The State gave the regiment a tardy recognition, and, on November 27, 1861, issued commissions to the officers, and thenceforth the corps were known as the Seventy-third new York Volunteers. But the boys called themselves the Second Fire Zouaves to the end of their service. While they were at Camp McClellan, Good Hope, a delegation of new York firemen, headed by Chief Decker, visited them, and on October 17, 1861, presented them with a handsome stand of colors, the gift of the department. Early in November, the regiment was ordered to Lomer, Maryland, about fifty miles below Washington, and detailed for picket duty on the banks of the Potomac. They crossed the river April 2, 1862, and made a raid on Stafford Court-house, where they destroyed a large amount of rebel stores. Closely pursued by the enemy, they recrossed the Potomac in good order under cover of their gunboats. Four days after the affair the regiment embarked in the steamer 'Vanderbilt' for Yorktown. From Cheeseman's Creek, Virginia, they went to the front, and did picket duty in the trenches until May 4. It was a quiet Sunday morning when a negro clambered over the enemy's breastwork and told the Second Fire Zouaves that the greycoats were evacuating the town. The New York men dashed forward, and enter Yorktown in time to see the enemy retreating. Thomas Madden, of Company H, secured the garrison flag, which the rebels had forgotten to take away. The trophy was sent to New York, where it remained for many years in the possession of Mr. Henry Jones, foreman of Engine No. 40. It is now the property of the Regimental Veteran Association, having been presented to them by Mr. Jones. In Townsend's "Records" of the First and Last Events of the War is the following:

"The first regiment to enter Yorktown and plant the stars and stripes on ramparts of the rebel works was the Seventy-third New York Volunteers, known as the Fourth Excelsior Regiment. Written on the wall of a deserted house in Yorktown was the cheering message, 'Yanks! We evacuate Yorktown to-day in order of our commander, but we will meet you to-morrow at Williamsburg.' Our heroes were on hand in Williamsburg the next day, and lost one hundred and fifty men on the field. Captain Feeney and Lieutenant Glass were among the killed. From that time until Lee's surrender the regiment got its share of every hard knock the Army of the Potomac received. They made a brilliant bayonet charge at Fair Oaks, June 1, which is thus mentioned in General McClellan's report: "'General Sickles, having been ordered to the left, formed line of battle on both sides of the Williamsburg Road and advanced under a sharp fire of the enemy deployed in the woods in front of Union. After a brisk countercharge of musketry fire while crossing the open ground, the Excelsior Brigade dashed into the timber with the bayonet, and put the enemy to flight. At Fair Oaks, June 15, the regiment was vigorously attacked during a severe thunderstorm. Company h bore the brunt of the rebel charge, and Captain McCaully was taken prisoner. Ten days later the Zouaves, who were in Hooker's division, took part in the action at Oak Grove, which was brought about by the general advance of the Union lines."  

McClellan's report contains these works: "If we succeed in what we have undertaken, it will be a very important advantage gained. Loss not large for the fighting up to this has been done by General Hooker's division which has behaved as usual--that is, most splendidly." During the retreat from Richmond the regiment was engaged at Savage Station and Glendale. While the army was in camp at Harrison's Landing, the Zouaves fought under Hooker at Malvern Hill, August 5, 1862. During the night, Hooker, finding himself confronted by a superior force, withdrew. The Zouaves remained at Harrison's Landing until the army left the Peninsula, and on August 21 they embarked at Yorktown for Alexandria. Immediately they were sent to Pope, arrived in time to fight at Bristol Station on August 27. Here a third of the regiment fell. Captain Donaldson and Lieutenant John McAllister (Engine No. 1, Williamsburg) were killed. At the second battle of Bull Run, (August 29, 1862), the battered regiment again crossed bayonets with the rebels. While they were advancing through the woods, the enemy fell upon their left flank and drove them back. The colors would have been taken had not Color-sergeant George Ramsey torn them from the staff and wrapped them about his body. Many Zouaves were taken prisoners. After the battle of Chantilly, September 1, the regiment went into camp near Alexandria, where several recruits from New York helped to fill the decimated companies. The muster rolls of November 1 show four hundred and eighteen men present for duty. From Alexandria the regiment was ordered to Falmuth, Va. It took part in the slaughter in Fredericksburg, and was stuck in the mud with the rest of Burnside's command during his famous march. Fredericksburg had again thinned the ranks, and at Falmuth on January 20, 1863, the One Hundred and sixty-third New York Volunteers were incorporated with the Fire Zouaves, bringing the strength up to five hundred and sixty-nine, as the muster rolls of March 1 show. On May 2 the fire laddies fought stubbornly at Chancellorsville, holding a position in the wood where Stonewall Jackson received his death-wound. Among the killed were Lieutenant Thomas Dennin (Engine 47).  

After the battle the regiment went back to the camp at Falmuth, where it lay until the Pennsylvania campaign. At Gettysburg Colonel Brewster commanded the brigade, which was in the left of the line in Humphrey's division. The One Hundred and Fourteenth Pennsylvania was attacked by the Barksdale, Miss., brigade. Brewster ordered the Zouaves to support the Pennsylvanians. They went into the combat three hundred an twenty-four strong, and lost fifty-one killed, one hundred and three wounded, and eight prisoners. Captain E. C. Shine and Lieutenant W. L. Herbert, James Marksman and George C. Dennin were killed. July 23, 1863, found the Zouaves at Manassas Gap, where, with the rest of the Excelsior Brigade, under General Spinola, charged Wapping Heights. The regiment was on picket duty in the Rapidan until Lee forced Meade to fall back to Fairfax Court-house. November 7, the boys crossed the Rappahanock, and fought at Kelly's Ford. There they went into winter quarters at Brandy Station, and met the greycoats at Mine Run, November, 27. After the action, the regiment went back to winter quarters, where it remained until Spring. On January, 1864, three hundred and eighteen men were present for duty. Many of them re-enlisted, and went on furlough to New York, where their fellow firemen gave them a rousing reception. The camp at Brandy Station was broken up May 1, 1864, and the regiment crossed the Rapidan. Grant was at the head of the army, and between the Wilderness and Cold Harbor the Zouaves saw plenty of hard fighting. Captain John Phelan, James McDermott, Michael D. Purtell and George L. Fort and Lieutenant B. Leonard were killed during the campaign. On the evening of June 15, the regiment entered the trenches in front of Petersburg. And were hotly engaged the next morning. Patrick Stack, of Engine 53, was the first man to fall. During the siege of Petersburg the regiment was continually on the move, taking part in most all the skirmishes in front of the strong-hold.  

At Bull Run half of the regiment fell into the hands of the enemy, and the colors would have been taken had not the Color-Sergeant, Patrick Doyle, hidden them under his jacket. While the little band of Zouaves was returning through the mud to camp, the flag slipped unobserved from Doyle's person. He went back after it, and walked two miles without finding either the colors or any one who had picked them up. The cavalry picket refused to let him go further, as the enemy was close at hand. With a heart heavy as lead, Doyle walked towards the camp again. He had not gone five hundred yards, where, to his boundless joy, he found the dear blackened, tattered old flag buried in the mud, where one thousand soldiers had trodden it down.

On March 25, 1865, the regiment captured three officer and one hundred and twenty-four men at Hatcher's Run, while the One Hundred and Twenty-fourth New York and one Hundred and Tenth Pennsylvania and the Zouaves made a night attack April 1 and took many prisoners. They had their last march with the Rebels on the sixth. Three days later came the new of Lee's surrender. On June 29, the regiment, two hundred strong, was mustered out of a service in which it has spent four years, one month and seven days. It had fought gallantly at Stafford Court-house, Yorktown, Williamsburg, Seven Pines, Fair Oaks Oak Grove, Savage Station, Glendale, Malvern Hill, Bristow Station, Second Bull Run, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, Chantilly, Spottsylvania, North Anna, Tolopotomy, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Strawberry Plains, Deep Bottom, and Boylston Road. 

WILLIAM HACKETT.-- At the breaking out of the War of Secession, William A. Hackett was among the first to volunteer his services to the government as a soldier; was accepted, and assigned to the command of Company H., First Regiment, New York Fire Zouaves (afterwards known as the eleventh New York Volunteers), under Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth, which regiment left the city for the seat of war April 29, 1861. William A. Hackett was born on the corner of Nassau and Liberty Streets, in the City of New York, on March 16, 1834, and became a member of the new York Volunteer Fire Department in 1851, having at that time joined Washington Engine Company No. 20, to which company he was strongly attached from early boyhood, an attachment he ever retained to an enthusiastic degree throughout his entire career as a fireman. His untiring devotion, never-failing attention to duty, and good judgment of fires, soon commanded the admiration of his associates, and he was unanimously elected to the foremanship while yet the youngest man among those on the roll of his company. Fire duty was his all-absorbing study through life, and were it nor for his close application to fires, there is a little reason to doubt he would have remained among us to this day in some active capacity not far removed from the present department. To enumerate the many noteworthy escapes, accidents, and incidents he experienced during his service would make a volume in itself. At the Jennings' fire on Broadway, where some thirteen firemen were killed by the falling of a heavy safe from one of the upper floors of the burning building, his escape was most miraculous. His labors at Penfold, Parker, and Moore's fire, in Beekman Street, where he was confined with the burning building for several hours, was an exhibition of endurance very few, if any, of his associates could have withstood; and at the explosion during the progress of the fire in the bonded warehouse on pearl Street, near State, where he received an injury of which he ever after complained, and it is believed was, to a great extent, instrumental in his untimely death. Mr. Hackett was elected in 1859 to the Engineer Board by a very flattering vote, a like honor being extended at every subsequent election up to the close of the Volunteer system.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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