The Hawkins’ Zouaves at Antietam

Emerging Civil War welcomes guest author Tyler Dicembrino…

Miller’s Cornfield, Dunker Church, the Bloody Lane, West Woods, and the Burnside Bridge are all synonymous with the Battle of Antietam, but many forget the final assault on Harpers Ferry Road. It was during that final struggle that the 9th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment was engaged. Private David L. Thompson, Company G recollected of the battle, “The mental strain was so great that I saw at that moment the singular effect mentioned, I think, in the life of Goethe on a similar occasion, the whole landscape for an instant turned slightly red.”[1]

The “Hawkins’ Zouaves,” as they were known, were originally a military club founded by Rush C. Hawkins. When war broke out they mustered in as the 9th New York on April 23, 1861, in New York City. The men who were a part of the 9th wore a unique version of the Zouave uniform created by the famous Brooks Brothers — a dark blue coat, vest, and chasseur style trousers with red scrollwork and piping, white gaiters around their boots, a red sash wrapped around their waist held in place by an ordnance belt buckle and atop their heads a red fez with a blue tassel.[2] Company K was issued five Dahlgren Boat Howitzers, thus becoming an attached battery of the regiment. The Zouaves were issued a standard federal flag and were given a unique six by eight feet red silk battle flag with the golden inscription “9th Regiment, N. Y. V., Toujours Prêt” on the center. Toujours prêt, meaning “Always Ready” in French, served as an homage to the nation whose uniforms they proudly recreated. The regiment first saw action during General Ambrose Burnside’s North Carolina Expedition in 1862 and was transferred along with the rest of the 9th Corps to the Army of the Potomac for the Maryland Campaign in 1862.

At the time of the Maryland Campaign, Col. Hawkins was on a leave of absence, putting Lt. Col. Edgar Addison Kimball in charge of the regiment. They saw minor action at the battle of South Mountain on September 14, 1862. After some delay, on September 15, around 5:00 pm the Zouaves were ordered to advance to Sharpsburg via the Old Sharpsburg Road, passing by enemy dead from the day prior. The exhausted 9th was finally ordered to set up camp around Red Hill by 11:00 pm after completing a nearly 6-mile march that evening. On the evening of the 16th,the Zouaves were instructed to move to their final position with the rest of the 3rd Division of the IX Corps on the southern portion of the battlefield east of Antietam Creek. It was a cloudy and drizzly day, darkness had fallen and the regiment was ordered forward with bayonets fixed through a cornfield. Expecting to assault the Rebel positions, the men of the 9th were on high alert. Shouts of “Halt!” from Brig. Gen. Isaac Rodman, commander of the 3rd Division and others across the line stopped the advance. The 103rd New York, a part of the same brigade as the Zouaves, were slightly ahead. Corporal John Whitney, Company B claimed, “Had the Germans (103rd) continued to advance but a moment longer, they would surely have received a volley of musketry and their proximity gives conception of the terrible slaughter that would have ensued.”[3] Finally reaching their destination, the 9th slept in the cornfield they had just advanced through.

After a night filled with rain, the morning of the 17th came with distant sounds of thundering cannon from the north side of the battlefield. The regiment formed up early and was told to lay down to avoid Confederate troops on the opposite side of the creek from spotting them. Despite this, their red caps and banner gave their position away, making the 9th easy targets for rebel guns. After losing fourteen men wounded the 9th retired, and the entire 3rd Division moved three-quarters of a mile down the Antietam Creek to find Snavely’s Ford as the rest of the corps attempted to cross at the Rohrbach bridge — later dubbed the “Burnside Bridge.” Company K under Capt. James Whiting was placed atop a ridge overlooking the ford and began to blast the Rebel skirmishers on the other side. The Zouaves successfully forded the Antietam around 1:00 pm, ascended the wooded hill on the other side, and advanced to reunite with the rest of the 9th Corps, who by that point had taken the bridge. By 3:00 pm, the 9th was placed in position on the center left of the corps and ordered to lie down once more to avoid the shells Rebel batteries lobbed towards them. Second Lieutenant Mathew Graham, Company H recalled: “I was lying on my back, supported by my elbows, watching the shells explode overhead and speculating as to how long I could hold up my finger before it would be shot off, for the very air seemed to be full of bullets.”[4]

Libaire

Captain Adolphe Libaire, Company E, won the Medal of Honor for his actions during the charge (New York Military Museum)

By 3:15 pm, Lt. Col. Kimball deployed Company I as skirmishers and the advance toward the Harpers Ferry Road began. The regiment moved ahead of their brigade, cresting the first of three ridges where the Confederate batteries near the road used the small window of opportunity to shell the advancing Zouaves. Reaching safety at the bottom of the hill, the Zouaves continued past other Federal regiments who were hiding from the hell storm awaiting them at the top. The 9th crested the second ridgeline once more under fire, but this time letting out a chant of “ZOO ZOO ZOO!” as they hurried to the next defilade. It was then at the bottom of the third ridge that the regiment finally gained a small moment of rest after moving at the double quick across the near mile of land between their starting position and the enemy’s position along a stone wall. Corporal Whitney recorded that at this moment, a wounded man who had his jaw shot off and was holding it together with one hand began to wave his fez in the air with the other hand, prompting Kimball to say, “See that! Isn’t that enough to make you fight?”3 The red caps, inspired by their comrade, sprang to their feet with another shout and crested the final hill. The Confederate brigades of Brig. Gens. James Kemper and Thomas Drayton opened up on the 9th with a withering fire, mowing down the entire color guard.  It was then that Captain Adolph Libaire, Company E, snatched up the regimental colors, urging the regiment forward.4 As the regiment advanced First Lt. Robert McKechnie, Company H, placed his fez at the top of his sword, leading the regiment forward with his fellow officers. After vicious hand-to-hand fighting, both Rebel brigades were driven back behind the Harpers Ferry Road.[5]  Federal reinforcements finally reached the shattered Zouaves just as Maj. Gen. A.P. Hill’s Confederate division entered the field on their far left. The 3rd Division’s commander, Isaac Rodman, had been mortally wounded and was unable to order the red caps to fall back from their dangerous position, leading Brig. Gen. Orlando Willcox of the 1st Division to order the withdrawal. Kimball, however, refused to retreat when ordered to by Willcox’s aides and insisted the position was strong. It was not until Willcox himself rode up to the Zouaves that Kimball begrudgingly obeyed. Kimball yelled to Willcox out of spite: “Look at my regiment! They go off this field under orders! They are not driven off! Does this look like a beaten regiment?”4 The regiment moved off the field they had won in good order and made it back to Antietam Creek safely, ending their day’s struggle. For the regiment, 240 out of 373 Zouaves who made the attack became casualties that day.[6]

Today the hallowed ground of the engagement is practically hidden to those visiting Antietam National Battlefield. A sign next to the path leading to the 9th New York’s monument blends into the driveways of the private houses next to it and during harvesting season is nearly invisible due to the high corn the farmers who own the land around it plant. A visitor who parks on the side of the Harpers Ferry Road on a narrow strip of grass will enter the paved pathway, and on following it down can see a giant, Washington Monument-looking structure. After a quarter-mile walk the visitor reaches a behemoth Hawkins’ Zouave obelisk. Next to the Zouave monument sits the marker where Rodman was mortally wounded alongside a smaller 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry monument. It is upsetting that the 9th New York’s monument is not visited more often and is practically ignored by many who come to tour Antietam due to its poor parking, visibility, and the lack of publicity on this underappreciated portion of Antietam. The story of the brave “Little Zoos” who reached the pinnacle of glory while crossing a field that bloody September day should not be forgotten.

Author at Antietam

Author at the base of the 9th New York monument at Antietam

Biography

Tyler Dicembrino is currently working for his bachelor’s degree in George Mason University for History, and concentrating in Public History. While attending Carmel High School he researched, fundraised, and dedicated a monument to all Federal Troops who came from Putnam County, New York.

[1] Sears, “Landscape Turned Red”
[2] Davis, Pohanka,and Troiani, “Civil War Journal: the Legacies”
[3] Whitney, “The Hawkins Zouaves (Ninth N.Y.V.): Their Battles and Marches”
[4] Graham, “Ninth Regiment New York Volunteers: Hawkins Zouaves”
[5] Priest, “Antietam: the Soldiers’ Battle”
[6] Gottfried, “MAPS OF ANTIETAM: an Atlas of The Antietam Sharpsburg Campaign, Including the … Battle of South Mountain”

References

Davis, William C., Brian C. Pohanka, and Don Troiani. Civil War Journal: the Legacies. Nashville, TN: Rutledge Hill Press, 1999.

Gottfried, Bradley M. MAPS OF ANTIETAM: an Atlas of The Antietam Sharpsburg Campaign, Including the … Battle of South Mountain, September 2-20, 1862. Place of publication not identified: SAVAS BEATIE, 2019.

Graham, Matthew J. Ninth Regiment New York Volunteers: Hawkins Zouaves. Place of publication not identified: Ironclad Pub, 1998.

Priest, John M. Antietam: the Soldiers’ Battle. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Sears, Stephen W., and Barrett Whitener. Landscape Turned Red. Ashland, Or.: Blackstone Audio, 2006.

Whitney, John Henry Ellsworth. The Hawkins Zouaves (Ninth N.Y.V.): Their Battles and Marches. Bethesda, MD: University Publications of America, 1992.

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12 Responses to The Hawkins’ Zouaves at Antietam

  1. It’s nice to see coverage of some of the lesser known regiments and monuments. Thanks for your research and the blog post.

  2. Joseph R Denice says:

    Zoo Zoo Zoo!!

  3. Terrance Galvin says:

    that yoinky sploinky

  4. Ben E. King says:

    Zuwu

  5. Chris Kolakowski says:

    That part of the field is sadly neglected and misunderstood, especially regarding the final attack into Sharpsburg. Thanks for this.

  6. David Clark says:

    After reading the regimental history of Hawkins’ Zouaves, we made a point of visiting the scene of their epic charge on our next Antietam visit. Yes, it’s not the most obvious spot for visitation, but to walk the ground and see the monuments is truly inspiring. It is well worth one’s time to make the visit!

  7. Stef says:

    When you stand on the top of the hill at Antietam next to a grand monument dedicated to the Hawkins Zouaves you have to be curious from the sheer size of it . “ who they were , what they did read this blog abd make sure you learn a little about them and the day of their battle in the spot . Read some actual events of the battle ,by soldiers who were there .they were soldiers to be who’s story you’ll be happy to know fir the sake of history .

  8. Mark B. Foor says:

    Well written and informative piece. Well done Tyler, I look forward to reading more pieces by you on this forum.

  9. Philip McBride says:

    As a reenactor of the 165th NY, another Zouave regiment, I’ve wondered whether or not our shouted battlecry “Zoo Zoo Zoo” was historical or a reenactorism. Good to see it in the blog post. And a very well written post it is, Tyler. Good job. Good history.

  10. Michelle Crecca says:

    Enjoyed reading this article. My great great great grandfather was in the Hawkins Zouaves and was at this battle. I visited the monument at Antietam. It’s a beautiful sight and awe inspiring to read about what happened there.

  11. Vince says:

    My Great Great Grandfather – Private Severin Kress- took two bullets on the assault on that bridge. A small man, originating from Bavaria. It must have had been terrible for, my research reveals he was on a war pension until he died, old and safe in 1927 in Lynbrook New York. After my military service with the 2/5th Cavalry in 1965 I eventually wound up in New Zealand and married to a nice enough woman that here I stay and am now 73 and still finding new pieces to Severin Kress’ puzzle

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