73rd New York Infantry

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73rd New York Infantry Regiment
Second Fire Zouaves and the Civil War

73rd New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment
(Second Fire Zouaves, Excelsior Zouaves, 4th Excelsior Regiment)

73rd New York Infantry at Gettysburg
73rd New York Infantry Monument.jpg
Monument in Excelsior Field

73rd New York Infantry
("Second Fire Zouaves")
2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, Third Corps

Commander: Major Michael W. Burns

Battle of Gettysburg participation: July 2
Present for duty: 349 officers & men
Casualties: 51 killed, 103 wounded, 8 missing

Raised in the Bowery of New York City in the summer of 1861, the 73rd New York Infantry was given the moniker of "Second Fire Zouaves". Dressed in a distinctive zouave-style uniform, the 73rd's soldiers appeared different from their counterparts in the "Excelsior Brigade", and they were. The regiment was composed almost entirely of volunteer firemen from New York City and its boroughs, men who enlisted as volunteer soldiers with the assurance that they would still be carried as active firemen on the rolls of volunteer fire departments back home. (The organization of New York City Volunteer Firemen began in 1658 and lasted until 1865, when the control of fire departments in New York was taken over by the city administration) The regiment went to Washington in October 1861 where it was presented a stand of colors (flags) donated by the fire departments of New York City.

On July 2, the 73rd New York Infantry advanced into the Peach Orchard in an area now known as "Excelsior Field" across from the Sherfy farm buildings. The charge of General Barksdale's Mississippi Brigade ran headlong into the New Yorkers, who fought back with tenacity but were overwhelmed by the southern tide. Captain James Moran, commanding Company H, 73rd New York, remembered:

"Not far from our regiment's position, several guns that had made havoc among the advancing Confederates were in imminent danger of being taken. A caisson had been blown to atoms, the horses killed and most of the officers and men killed or wounded. As our line began to retire a mounted officer implored us... to save his guns. Amid the sounds of bursting shells, cheers mingled with shouts, and the general confusion of the moment, it was almost impossible to hear or be heard. At what I mistook for the consent of (Major) Burns... I called for the men of my company and those nearest me to follow me with the mounted officer and drag away the imperiled guns. A minute later a shell burst...a fragment wounded me in the ankle and what felt like burning powder entered my left eye. Our line now in considerable disorder retired (and) for a few minutes were in a perfect tornado of bullets and shells from both friends and foe, the open field affording no shelter. At last the enemy came hard upon us. As the center of the 13th Mississippi passed over me, the men firing and shrieking like Indians, a volley from our side tore through (their) ranks and some of the Confederates fell. I had never in my experience seen such havoc from a single volley and its effect was instantly manifested (as) the line of battle came to a halt without command and it took the utmost exertions of the (Confederate) officers to prevent panic."

What remained of the 73rd New York participated in a stubborn withdrawal by the division to Cemetery Ridge.

Partially funded by the state of New York and city firemen, the monument to the 73rd New York Infantry was dedicated on Saturday, September 4, 1897 and bears the inscription, "Erected at the instance of Volunteer Firemen of the City of New York... in grateful recognition of the service rendered by the Second Fire Zouaves on this field in defence of the Union July 2, 1863". At the dedication ceremony, General Henry Tremain said, "The volunteer firemen never failed to risk life to save life, or risk life to save country. That men associated in civic life for such exigencies should make good soldiers does not seem strange. No honor could be greater to the volunteer firemen of New York than this monument- except the honor of the work done by their representative regiment, the Second Fire Zouaves, on this and other battlefields."

The monument was designed by the architectural firm of Hoffman and Prochazka of New York, and the bronze statues are the work of New York sculptor G. Moretti, who also sculpted the statue of Commodore Vanderbilt that stands on the campus of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. At the time of its dedication the monument was valued at $15,000.00.

73rd New York Infantry Monument.jpg

Dedication tablet on the 73rd New York Infantry Monument at Gettysburg
(National Park Service)

The spirit of those firemen-turned-soldiers remains alive to this day, embodied in the courage, skill and determination of the firemen and policemen of New York City who responded to the terrible events that changed the face of that city and this nation on September 11, 2001.

Sources: National Park Service; Gettysburg National Military Park.

Recommended Reading: An Uncommon Soldier: The Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, alias Pvt. Lyons Wakeman, 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers, 1862-1864, by Sarah Rosetta Wakeman (Author), James M. McPherson (Foreword), Lauren Cook Burgess (Editor). Description: "I don't know how long before i shall have to go into the field of battle. For my part i don't care. I don't feel afraid to go. I don't believe there are any Rebel's bullet made for me yet." --Pvt. Lyons Wakeman. Similar sentiments were expressed by tens of thousands of Civil War soldiers in their diaries and in their letters to loved ones at home. What transforms the letters of Pvt. Lyons Wakeman from merely interesting reading into a unique and fascinating addition to Civil War literature is who wrote them--for Private Wakeman was not what "he" seemed to be. Continued below…

The five-foot tall soldier's true identity was that of a simple young farm girl from central New York named Sarah Rosetta Wakeman. Her letters, the only such correspondence known to exist, provide a rare glimpse of what life was like for a woman fighting as a common soldier in the Civil War under the guise of a man. Written shortly after she left home to pursue her fortune in 1862, Rosetta's letters over the next two years tell of army life in the defences of Washington, D.C. and on the march and in battle during the 1864 Louisiana Red River Campaign. She wrote frequently to her family in Afton, NY, and her letters contain feelings and observations like those expressed by the majority of her fellow soldiers. We read of her determination to perform honorably the duty required of a soldier, the trials of hard marching and combat, her pride in being able to "drill just as well as any man" in her regiment, and her eventual fatalistic attitude toward military service, and her frequent expressions of faith in God and the afterlife. Although Rosetta did not survive the war, her letters remain as a singular record of female military life in the ranks, a phenomenon largely ignored by historians and researchers. Private Wakeman was not alone in embarking on her strange adventure. Hundreds of women, from both the North and South, disguised themselves as men and enlisted in the armies of our nation's bloodiest war. The experiences of these women during the Civil War are just beginning to be recognized as elemental to understanding the life of this country during those turbulent times. Little is known about these women precisely because they enlisted and served in constant secrecy, fearful of revealing their true identities. This unique collection of letters offers a firsthand look at the personality and character of a woman who defied convention to take a man's place in the Union army.

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Recommended Reading: The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command (928 pages). Description: Coddington's research is one of the most thorough and detailed studies of the Gettysburg Campaign. Exhaustive in scope and scale, Coddington delivers, with unrivaled research, in-depth battle descriptions and a complete history of the regiments involved. This is a must read for anyone seriously interested in American history and what transpired and shaped a nation on those pivotal days in July 1863.


Recommended Reading: Irish Brigade In The Civil War: The 69th New York And Other Irish Regiments Of The Army Of The Potomac. Description: The unveiling of the Irish Brigade Memorial at Antietam this year focuses attention on one of the most colorful units of the American Civil War. Despite its distinguished record and key role in the war, no detailed history of the brigade has been written in 130 years. Comprised largely of New York Irishmen, the Brigade made a decisive contribution to the Union victory at Antietam, suffered fearfully in a gallant charge at Fredericksburg, and made a famous stand in the Wheatfield on the second day at Gettysburg (as depicted in the recent film). Continued below...

The full co-operation of the present-day 69th New York National Guard helped make possible the compilation of this detailed account, which includes 13 period maps and 270 illustrations, many of them rare photos from private collections. The original hardcover limited edition of Bilby's book, however, quickly sold-out to re-enactors, veteran and active members of the 69th Regiment, and hard-core Civil War collectors; the Combined Publishing trade paperback is the first edition made available directly to the general public. Joseph G. Bilby is a popular columnist for the Civil War News and a veteran of the current 69th Regiment. He is also the author of Civil War Firearms.

Recommended Reading: Under the Crescent and Star : The 134th New York Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War (Hardcover). Description: Contained in this book is the history of the 134th New York Volunteer Infantry, a Civil War regiment raised in Schoharie and Schenectady Counties in upstate New York. Told largely in the words of the men who comprised the regiment, this book tells their story from the regiment's original organization in the summer of 1862, through the first deadly winter in Virginia, and on to Gettysburg, where the 134th suffered among the worst losses of any Union regiment present. Continued below…

Despite losing more than half its strength in that battle, the 134th went on to play a significant role in the relief of Chattanooga, the capture of Atlanta, Sherman's March to the Sea, and the invasion of the Carolinas. About the Author: George Conklin has been researching the 134th New York and the Battle of Gettysburg for several years. His articles on the subject have appeared in several history journals, including the Gettysburg Magazine.


Recommended Reading: Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage. Description: America's Civil War raged for more than four years, but it is the three days of fighting in the Pennsylvania countryside in July 1863 that continues to fascinate, appall, and inspire new generations with its unparalleled saga of sacrifice and courage. Continued below...

Now, acclaimed historian Noah Andre Trudeau brings the most up-to-date research available to a brilliant, sweeping, and comprehensive history of the battle of Gettysburg that sheds fresh light on virtually every aspect of it. Deftly balancing his own narrative style with revealing firsthand accounts, Trudeau brings this engrossing human tale to life as never before.


Recommended Reading: The History Buff's Guide to Gettysburg (Key People, Places, and Events) (Key People, Places, and Events). Description: While most history books are dry monologues of people, places, events and dates, The History Buff's Guide is ingeniously written and full of not only first-person accounts but crafty prose. For example, in introducing the major commanders, the authors basically call Confederate Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell a chicken literally. 'Bald, bug-eyed, beak-nosed Dick Stoddard Ewell had all the aesthetic charm of a flightless foul.' To balance things back out a few pages later, they say federal Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade looked like a 'brooding gargoyle with an intense cold stare, an image in perfect step with his nature.' Continued below...

From Chancellorsville, where General Robert E. Lee launched his high-risk campaign into the North, to the Confederates' last daring and ultimately-doomed act, forever known as Pickett's Charge, the battle of Gettysburg gave the Union army a victory that turned back the boldest and perhaps greatest chance for a Southern nation. Although it's called a guide to Gettysburg, in my opinion, it's an authoritative guide to the Civil War. Any history buff or Civil War enthusiast or even that casual reader should pick it up.


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