The Schroeder Books
With the 11th
New York Fire Zouaves In Camp, Battle, and Prison:
The Narrative of Private Arthur O’Neil Alcock in The
New York Atlas and Leader
150 years this is the first book-length work regarding the 11th New
York Fire Zouaves. No Federal
regiment marched to war with such high expectations for military glory than the
one led by the charismatic Colonel Elmer Ellsworth composed of members of New
York City’s Fire Department—known for their physical prowess and reckless.
Ellsworth, had moved from Mechanicville, NY, to Illinois at age 17, where
he joined the state militia and studied law in the office of Abraham Lincoln.
He transformed a Chicago militia company into the “United States
Zouave Cadets.” Outfitted them in Zouave uniforms, and trained them in the
complex maneuvers, and captured the National Drill Competition title in 1859.
The following summer, Ellsworth and his Zouave Cadets embarked on a tour
of some twenty cities and dazzled the crowd of admirers. The dashing
Ellsworth became a national celebrity, and his company’s success spawned a
“zouave craze” that swept the country on the eve of Civil War.
Ellsworth managed to quickly equip his troops an on April 29,
1861—sporting jaunty gray uniforms with red fire shirts and kepis—the Fire
Zouaves departed for Washington. Arriving at the capital, the firemen’s antics
and occasional depredations soon made it clear that Ellsworth faced a
considerable challenge in training and discipline.
In the predawn darkness of May 24, 1861, the Fire Zouaves boarded
transports and embarked for Alexandria. In
a move that displayed more zeal than wisdom, Ellsworth proceeded to the roof
Marshall House hotel and removed a large Confederate flag, but was shot by the
innkeeper on his way down the stairs. Zouave Corporal Francis Brownell quickly
avenged Ellsworth’s death. Those
deadly seconds gave both North and South their first martyrs.
Colonel Noah Farnham took command and led the regiment into the Union
debacle at Bull Run on July 21, 1861, where the Fire Zouaves played a
controversial part in the bloody fight for Henry House Hill.
One zouave who “saw the elephant” there was Private Arthur O’Niel
Alcock. His detailed prolific accounts appeared in
The New York Atlas and
New York Leader. Alcock’s
effusive columns reflected no small degree of wit and literary ability.
A comrade noted, Alcock “always displayed much ability with the pen, as
well as all the characteristics of a ‘jolly good fellow.’”
Initially considered for the captaincy of Company A, Alcock chose to go
to war as Colonel Ellsworth’s military secretary.
At Bull Run, he was detailed to the regimental surgeon, Dr. Charles Gray,
as acting medical orderly and supervisor of the stretcher bearers (but entered
the fight for a time). In that capacity Alcock found himself en route to
the great clash of arms that transpired on the plains of Manassas. The
journalist/soldier was taken prisoner, eventually transferred from Richmond to
Castle Pinckney, Charleston harbor, SC, and following ten months of captivity in
Southern prisons recorded his experiences in a series of articles published in
In May 1862, Alcock was exchanged. In
the months following Bull Run the 11th New York had returned to the
front but continued to suffer from disciplinary lapses that at times brought the
regiment to a condition bordering on anarchy. By late May the entire unit
was back in New York and in disbanded.
Alcock resumed his position
as Fire Editor of the Atlas. In
mid August of 1862, the paper began to serialize a account
of his experiences. He reenlisted in
the 10th New York Infantry and was mortally wounded at Laurel Hill
(Spotsylvania Court House) on May 8, 1864. The
publication of Alcock’s letters honor a sensitive and literate volunteer and
after 150 years is the first book-length narrative of the 11th New
York Fire Zouaves.
With the 11th New York Fire Zouaves In Camp, Battle, and Prison: The Narrative of Private Arthur O’Neil Alcock in The New York Atlas and Leader
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